SEAWORLD will stop breeding killer whales in captivity, bowing to years of pressure from animal rights activists.
But the orcas already at its three parks will continue performing as they live out their remaining years.
SeaWorld Entertainment Inc’s decision came after it pledged in November to replace its signature “Shamu” killer whale shows in San Diego in the US with modified presentations of the animals that focused on conservation.
SeaWorld president Joel Manby said the parks would use birth control to halt reproduction among its killer whales, also known as orcas.
SeaWorld, which operates marine parks in San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio, has a total of 29 killers whales. Five of them were captured in the wild, but SeaWorld has not caught orcas at sea for almost 40 years.
The parks have been criticised for their treatment of the captive marine mammals, with some activists seeking an end to public exhibition of killer whales altogether.
The criticism intensified after three marine mammals — an orca, a beluga whale and a white-sided dolphin — died at SeaWorld San Antonio within four months in late 2015 and early this year.
The lifespan of a killer whale in the wild is typically 30 years for males and 50 for females, with some females living as long as 100 years, according to the website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. SeaWorld’s oldest killer whale, Corky, is 51.
SeaWorld also said it would scrap plans for a $US100 million ($134 million) project called “Blue World” to enlarge its orca habitat at SeaWorld San Diego.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is teaming up with high-profile Canadian environmentalists and scientists to investigate the impact of salmon farms on the B.C. coast.
Actor-turned-activist Pamela Anderson, Vancouver environmentalist David Suzuki, First Nations leader Ernie Crey and marine biologist Alexandra Morton will be at a news conference in Vancouver Monday to launch Operation Virus Hunter.
Morton said the expedition aims to raise awareness of the dangers the farmed salmon industry — which raise salmon in pens in the ocean — poses to wild salmon stocks and ocean biodiversity.
“They use the ocean as an open sewer and dump their waste straight into it, specifically the viruses and sea lice that breed in industrial farms. They’re allowed to pour that onto the biggest salmon migration routes in Canada.”
Morton will be one of the scientists on-board the Sea Shepherd’s R/V Martin Sheen as it sets sail this week to northern Vancouver Island, following the route of the Fraser River sockeye migration.
The 92-foot vessel will stop at salmon farms to conduct “audits” for diseases, which the Sea Shepherd said will be done in a “non-aggressive and non-harassing manner.”
Morton said they will specifically be looking for the piscine reovirus, a virus associated with outbreaks of heart and skeletal muscle inflammation, which was found for the first time in B.C. on fish in one farm in Johnstone Strait in May.
Banning marine pens and transferring farmed fish into tanks on land would be the “biggest fixable impact on our wild salmon,” she said.
While salmon stocks have been declining around the world, jurisdictions that had banned salmon farms from the ocean, such as Alaska, have seen an increase in wild salmon numbers, added Morton.
The campaign also launched a 90-minute PSA featuring Anderson, who called on consumers not to put farmed salmon on their plates. Anderson is chairman of the board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said the industry has a good track record of environmental stewardship and is committed to achieving a high level of third-party certification for its farms.
“Fish health is an obsession to salmon farmers,” said Dunn, adding that an average 94 per cent of farmed salmon that enter the ocean are raised through to harvest. He said the R/V Martin Sheen could pose a “biosecurity concern” if it trespassed onto waters leased to salmon farmers.
There are 109 licensed farms in B.C., with about 60 to 70 in operation at any one time.