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SeaWorld San Diego to phase out killer whale shows

SeaWorld will be phasing out its killer whale show at its San Diego park next year, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

According the newspaper, the company placed documents online that state the park will be replacing the shows with a new orca experience to premier in 2017, which will focus more on animal conservation. The announcement of the phase-out of the shows comes just after SeaWorld’s San Diego park allocated $100 million to expand its killer whale tank to provide more space for the marine mammals.

SeaWorld has seen considerable controversy over its killer whale program recently, leading to a decline in attendance rates and profit. The controversy increased after the 2013 release of “Blackfish,” a documentary extremely critical of the park’s treatment of its whales and dolphins. From 2014 to 2015 the park saw an 84 percent decrease in net income, and a drop in attendance of more than 100,000.

In addition to a drop in attendance, SeaWorld has also been facing state and federal regulations which threaten its operations. The California Coastal Commission recently ruled that in order to build their new tank extension, SeaWorld would have to stop breeding whales. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, has also said he plans to introduce federal legislation to stop the breeding of captive orcas, and end the capture of wild ones.

The park’s Blue World tank expansion project and the phasing out of its killer whale shows are part of an effort to fight recent controversy, and demonstrate to the public that the park provides a good habitat for its whales. According to SeaWorld’s website, the new tanks would almost double the space of the existing tanks. They also would provide varied depths and currents in the water, as well as adding in live fish and kelp. The park also promises that the expansion will include a greater focus on animal research and care, so that scientists can gain a greater understanding of the whales in captivity as well as in the wild.

The current plans apply to the company’s San Diego park. It is unclear if any changes will be made to its Orlando or San Antonio parks.