The SeaWorld Deal to End Captive Breeding Is Just the Start

SeaWorld’s March announcement that it would immediately cease breeding orcas and adopt other substantial reforms for animal welfare created more than a splash in the global media. It was the latest in a series of major corporate announcements—within the realms of live animal entertainment, food and agriculture, animal testing and science, fashion and wildlife management, and the pet trade—revealing a tangible shift in how we treat animals.

Businesses on the wrong side of the animal welfare debate are switching sides and increasingly aligning their practices with consumer sensibilities. As I write in my new book, The Humane Economy, there’s still so much work to do and so many causes of cruelty, but this broad-based progress is invigorating and indicative of the larger trajectory of animal welfare in our society.

When I joined SeaWorld’s relatively new chief executive, Joel Manby, to announce its package of reforms—including advocacy campaigns to fight shark finning and commercial whaling and sealing, as well as efforts to protect our coral reefs—we both said this was the start of our relationship and not the end. We had been in discussions for months and agreed that SeaWorld needed to be an advocate for marine creatures and the oceans, because they are under siege from a range of direct and indirect human-caused threats.

Together we are now backing federal legislation—with Republicans and Democrats—to ban imports or interstate sales of shark fins in the United States. We plan to put our shoulders behind similar legislation in Florida and other key coastal states. Manby and I both see the day, in the not too distant future, when we can reduce the total number of dead sharks worldwide by tens of millions.

Those who remain skeptical of SeaWorld and other corporations making meaningful animal welfare commitments should remember that this kind of progress begets more of the same. Since the SeaWorld announcement, the National Aquarium has pledged to move its eight dolphins to seaside sanctuaries in the next five years. The Georgia Aquarium has agreed to end its quest to acquire wild-caught belugas or dolphins, something The Humane Society of the United States and others had insisted on.

This kind of viral change happens when a leader in a sector of industry embraces reform. After McDonald’s announced it would phase out its purchasing of pork from operators who confined pigs in small crates, dozens of other food retailers followed suit. When the fast-food giant, three years later, said it would only source eggs from cage-free facilities, more than 175 companies pledged the same. So, with a pair of pledges from McDonald’s, we are now on the cusp of ending extreme confinement of animals on factory farms in the United States—almost unthinkable progress just five years ago.

Related SeaWorld to End Captive Breeding of Killer Whales, Orca Shows

I believe SeaWorld’s business model will continue to evolve. At the parks, I think you’ll see fewer animal performances and more roller coaster rides, more computer-generated imagery, more emphasis on rescue and rehabilitation, and more messaging in the parks about how people can protect marine life and oceans. Customers will dine at concessions and food service operators that offer more plant-based foods, cage-free and crate-free animal products, and sustainable seafood options.

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