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ORLANDO, Fla. —

SeaWorld is ending its orca breeding program, the company announced Thursday morning.

“SeaWorld’s commitment to end breeding of orcas is a long-held goal of many animal advocacy organizations, and we commend the company for making this game-changing commitment,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of Humane Society of the United States.

The HSUS said it praises SeaWorld for committing to end the breeding of orcas.

SeaWorld said it will have “new, inspiring, natural orca encounters, rather than theatrical shows, as part of its ongoing commitment to education, marine science research, and rescue of marine animals.”

The company said the new programs will focus on orca enrichment, exercise and overall health.

The programs will start in its San Diego park next year, followed by San Antonio and then Orlando in 2019.

SeaWorld also announced that it has formed a partnership with the Humane Society of the United States to protect the oceans and the animals that live in them.

The company said it is committed to educating its more than 20 million annual visitors on animal welfare and conservation issues through interpretative programs at the parks and expanded advocacy for wild whales, seals and other marine creatures. 

“SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals,” said Joel Manby, president and chief executive Officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. “As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter.”

The current population of orcas at SeaWorld, including Takara that became pregnant last year, will live out their lives at the company’s park habitats.

“The work done by zoological facilities like SeaWorld is critical for the protection of animals in the wild, especially marine mammals. To that end, SeaWorld has committed $50 million over the next five years to be the world’s leading marine animal rescue organization, to advocate for an end to the commercial killing of whales and seals and an end to shark finning.”

Guests will be able to observe these orcas through the new educational encounters and in viewing areas within the existing habitats.

SeaWorld said in a release that it “reaffirms its commitment not to collect marine mammals from the wild.  It has not collected an orca from the wild in nearly 40 years, and the orcas at SeaWorld were either born there or have spent almost their entire lives in human care.  These orcas could not survive in oceans that include environmental concerns such as pollution and other man-made threats.”

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