SeaWorld parks have long been criticised by animal rights activists and some politicians. Photo: Reuters
By BBC News
The SeaWorld theme park in the US state of California is to phase out controversial public displays by killer whales, its chief executive has said.
Joel Manby announced that 2017 will be the last year of the show in San Diego. He said that the move was part of a strategy that seeks to reverse falling visitor numbers at the company's 11 parks across the US.
The company has faced intense criticism by activists who say keeping the whales in captivity is cruel and unnecessary. Its shares have halved in value since the release of a critical documentary film two years ago.
Dramatic displays by killer whales are the centrepiece at three parks operated by SeaWorld, in California, Florida and Texas. But the parks have long been criticised by animal rights activists and some politicians, who argue that keeping the mammals - also known as orcas - in captivity is cruel and unnecessary.
In October, Californian authorities prohibited SeaWorld from breeding animals in captivity, calling into question the future of the park's popular killer whale attraction. The BBC's Los Angeles correspondent James Cook says the San Diego show will reportedly be replaced with a new orca experience in a "more natural" setting but it is not clear what exactly that will involve.
Vice-President of Communications at SeaWorld Fred Jacobs told the BBC that the changes reflect "input received" in San Diego. "It does not affect our other parks," he added.
SeaWorld's popularity was damaged and attendance fell at its parks - especially in California - following the critically-acclaimed 2013 documentary Blackfish, which highlighted the impact of captivity on orcas.
SeaWorld has dismissed the documentary as inaccurate and misleading, pointing out that it has not captured a whale in the wild for 35 years. The park at San Diego is the company's second biggest and features its famous "Shamu" killer whale show.
SeaWorld also suffered a setback when One Direction's Harry Styles urged concertgoers to boycott the chain of aquatic theme parks in July. The company has since sought to improve its fortunes with a fresh marketing campaign and discount offers.