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SeaWorld To End Orca Breeding Program In Partnership With Humane Society


Now today's peace accord between SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the United States. SeaWorld has agreed to stop breeding orcas - killer whales - in captivity, and it says it will phase out performances by the orcas in its three parks over the next three years. SeaWorld has been criticized for breeding, penning and training the animals for entertainment.

The Humane Society has been among the critics, and joining me today are the president of SeaWorld, Joel Manby, and his new partner in SeaWorld's transition Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society. Welcome to both of you.

JOEL MANBY: Well, thank you very much, Robert. We appreciate you having us.


SIEGEL: And Mr. Manby, let's begin with you. If people soon will not get to see orcas performing at SeaWorld, what's going to keep them coming?

MANBY: Well, a few things, Robert. First of all, the orcas - we will have them for years to come until they all pass away. We think this is the best place for them. So customers will still be able to see them in what we call a new orca encounter. And we will talk more about their plight in the wild and how they hunt and play together in the wild.

And then secondly, we have a broad mission, Robert, to help protect animals in the wild. And we're going to put that message through everything we do, whether it's a ride, a show. And then finally is our rescue operations. Our goal is to be the largest rescue operation in the world. And what a lot of people don't realize is you need these rescue operations to support the thousands of marine mammals killed a year.

SIEGEL: As for breeding, the state of California has been trying to force you to stop the breeding program in San Diego. Was this a case of taking voluntary steps, knowing that you were probably going to be forced to take these same steps sooner or later?

MANBY: You know, Robert, there are a lot of factors out there right now that are influencing this decision. That was certainly one of them. It's clear to me that society is shifting. People's view to have these beautiful, majestic animals under human care - people are more and more uncomfortable with that. And no matter what side you are on this issue, it's clear that that's shifting, and we need to shift with that.

And so a lot of factors came into that. I'm a new CEO. I've only been there 10 months, and I felt like we have such a positive message to tell. We've got to remove barriers from that message, and I thought us having orcas under human care was a barrier to that message.

SIEGEL: Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society, SeaWorld is phasing out performances. They're not immediately halting them. They're promising bigger pens for the whales but not to free them. Are you conferring too strong a blessing for two weak an action here?

PACELLE: Well, we think it's actually quite a nice suite of actions. Ending breeding of orcas is actually quite a big step, and the reaction that we've heard today from our constituents and others who have been quite critical of SeaWorld is very, very warm and positive.

SeaWorld is also committing to move much more decidedly toward rescue and rehabilitation of marine creatures in distress. And as Joel said, you know, there is a very thin safety net right now that exists. We need help with dolphins and whales and rays and all sorts of other creatures in distress. And they're going to join us in advocacy outside of the park. They're going to help us fight commercial whaling, commercial sealing, shark finning. I actually think it's quite a ledger of positive actions, and we feel very good about it.

SIEGEL: PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called this announcement a good first step, but they also call for the animals to be moved into ocean sanctuaries. Wayne Pacelle, is that your ultimate goal for the orcas at SeaWorld?

PACELLE: I really do look at the current pool of orcas at SeaWorld. The vast majority of them - 80, 85 percent of them were born in captivity. That makes them difficult to put back into the wild. And of the wild-caught ones, they've been in captivity for more than 30 years. So in terms of a group of individual animals, it's a tough group to think about making it in the wild.

But you know, we're always open, and you know, we're willing to study and look at these issues. But we feel very, very good that they're ending any additional breeding of orcas so we don't put more animals into captive settings, which really have a low ceiling in terms of their behavioral and physical needs. It's just not big enough in our view.

SIEGEL: Let's talk about money for a moment. Joel Manby of SeaWorld, first, does any money change hands between SeaWorld and the Humane Society?

MANBY: No, actually, it does not.

SIEGEL: And do you expect us to reverse the negative publicity that you've suffered since the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau and the anti-SeaWorld documentary "Blackfish"?

MANBY: I do believe - as I said, there's a lot of factors that influence this decision. We're not going to please everybody, but this is a very strong, bold step in the right direction.

SIEGEL: But the picture that's generally drawn is that SeaWorld had some real public relations problems and that you had to do something. I mean, do you feel that this is, in effect, a turnaround, a 180 degree turnaround?

MANBY: I think it's definitely a new direction and a new day for SeaWorld. The orca issue, I feel, was an overhang that was blocking our incredible story from being told. We love animals, and a lot of people don't realize that. And Wayne's organization does, too. And we need to move together on where we agree. Let's dialogue and have something productive happen, not monologue and fight and use resources not for the betterment of animals.

SIEGEL: Well, thanks to both of you for coming in to talk with us about this, Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, and Joel Manby, CEO of SeaWorld.

MANBY: Well, thank you for having us, Robert. We appreciate it.

PACELLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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