In a ceremony broadcast live to all three of its parks, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. just announced that it plans to build new, first-of-its-kind killer whale environments at all three of its SeaWorld parks. It will also fund new programs to protect ocean health and killer whales in the wild. The new projects will build on SeaWorld’s legacy of providing state-of-the-art, innovative homes for its animals, and will offer park guests unique and inspiring killer whale encounters for generations to come. As part of its vision for the future, the company also pledged $10 million in matching funds for killer whale research and is embarking on a multi-million dollar partnership focused on ocean health, the leading concern for all killer whales and marine mammals.
“For 50 years, SeaWorld has transformed how the world views marine life. The unprecedented access to marine mammals that our parks provide has increased our knowledge of the ocean and inspired generations,” said Jim Atchison, Chief Executive Officer and President of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. “Our new killer whale homes and research initiatives have just as bold a vision: to advance global understanding of these animals, to educate, and to inspire conservation efforts to protect killer whales in the wild.”
Here’s a video of the announcement and an interview with SeaWorld Orlando park president Terry Prather:
Much more on this expansion including my thoughts on whether it will make a difference for SeaWorld, the animals, and guests below the jump:
I’ve know for a few years that SeaWorld has been looking at what they can do to improve the enrichment experience for its killer whales. They’ve also had to rethink how trainers interact with the whales after a court determined that they can no longer enter the water together (however that is still under appeal). This expansion will not only give the killer whales mroe enrichment, it will give guests a greater chance to see how they would live in nature.
The first of the new environments will be built at SeaWorld San Diego where the killer whale environment is planned to have a total water volume of 10 million gallons, nearly double that of the existing facility. With a planned maximum depth of 50 feet, surface area of nearly 1.5 acres and spanning more than 350 feet in length, the new environment will also have views exceeding 40 feet in height, providing guests with the world’s largest underwater viewing experience of killer whales.
Named the Blue World Project because of its size and scope, the new environment will allow for increased engagement with SeaWorld experts through new enriching experiences and other interactive programs. The environment will enhance the educational experience for guests, foster deeper knowledge of killer whales and their ocean environment and inspire them to celebrate and conserve the natural world.
“Through up-close and personal encounters, the new environment will transform how visitors experience killer whales,” said Atchison. “Our guests will be able to walk alongside the whales as if they were at the shore, watch them interact at the depths found in the ocean, or a birds-eye view from above.”
Expanding on SeaWorld’s legacy of leading-edge animal environment design, the enlarged environment will provide killer whales with even more dynamic opportunities. It will support the whales’ broad range of behaviors and provide choices that can challenge the whales both physically and mentally.
Among other things, it is planned to include a “fast water current” that allows whales to swim against moving water, thus functionally increasing speed and diversity. Innovative features focused on husbandry and animal care will offer SeaWorld’s animal health professionals and independent scientists unique access to the whales that can lead to a better understanding and care of the animals both in the parks and in the wild.
The San Diego environment is expected to open to the public in 2018. Construction on the new killer whale homes at SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Antonio will open in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
For those who follow my coverage of SeaWorld here on the blog, you know I’m passionate about protecting the environment and conserving our natural resources, including animal and marine life. I can not think of an organization that does more for marine life than SeaWorld and I’ve said for years that they need to be much more vocal about the great work that they do. Not only that, they need to build on the idea of “conservation of the Earth’s resources” as their brand differentiation.
Yes, they’re primarily a theme park company, but they have expanded into more areas of entertainment (TV Shows and some movies), all with a conservation message. The parks have also subtly shifted direction toward emphasizing the good work SeaWorld does. And this announcement is another great step in that direction.
What worries me, is that they’re not balancing the things that will attract guests to the parks to experience the brand with the brand. It’s great that they’re taking this long needed step to expand the Orca environments, but it’s not sufficient to respond to the decrease in guest attendance.
I know the people at SeaWorld and I know they know this too. Now that they’re a public company they have limited resources and various stakeholders to answer to. But I hope they are able to figure out a way to add a bit more thrill and show to go with the new brand.