After years of defiance, SeaWorld is finally letting go of its controversial killer whale program. The troubled theme park, which has seen both its attendance and stock price plummet in recent years, announced on Thursday that its current batch of orcas (or killer whales) will be its last. The company will keep those it has already raised, but only because they are likely ill fit to fend for themselves in the wild.
Why? The domino effect that followed "Blackfish," a 2013 documentary which was met with both critical praise and public uproar, has simply proven too crippling to ignore. The damning movie, from which most, if not all, public scorn is derived, depicted cruel treatment of the killer whales that SeaWorld holds in captivity and features among its biggest attractions. It was seen widely, and the response has been paralyzing (even despite an effort to discredit the documentary).
There is little more to understanding why SeaWorld is ending its killer whale program than this chart, a brutal display of what has happened since "Blackfish" first aired in theaters.
SeaWorld's stock price, as shown above, peaked just ahead of the documentary's release, but has fallen by roughly 60 percent since (it's currently hovering a shade under $18 per share, up slightly on today's announcement). Attendance has also fallen precipitously at all of its 11 remaining parks around the country.
There are legal battles too, including a corrective disclosure in August 2014, which accused the company of downplaying the impact of the documentary, and a class-action lawsuit filed that September, which alleges that SeaWorld failed to disclose that it had been mistreating its orcas. The two, which surfaced after "Blackfish," have only have further validated its impact.
Even SeaWorld acknowledges the weight of the societal pressures brought on by the documentary. "SeaWorld has been listening and we’re changing. Society is changing and we’re changing with it," the company said in a statement.