WATCH: After immense public pressure SeaWorld has announced it will no longer breed orcas and a local researcher hopes the change of heart will mean one killer whale in particular can soon retire in the waters off Vancouver Island
Jumping and splashing for crowds of tourists, killer whales have been the centerpiece of SeaWorld theme parks for decades.
But after mounting public and financial pressures, the company announced today it will end its breeding program and phase out its splashy orca performances.
“It’s about where society is shifting. I have seen clearly that society is changing their attitude about these unbelievable, majestic animals being in human care,” said SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby.
U.S. theme park operator SeaWorld has been the target of growing anger in recent years, largely in response to the documentary ‘Blackfish’, which focused on the tragic life of former Victoria-based orca Tilikum.
But while Tilikum is nearing the end of his life due to illness, one local researcher hopes SeaWorld’s change of heart will give another one of its killer whales a better future.
Hanson Island-based researcher Paul Spong hopes the new direction is finally a sign SeaWorld is ready to return killer whale ‘Corky’ to her original home.
“It seems such a natural thing to do to say let’s give Corky the chance to meet her family again,” said Spong from his whale research base on Hanson Island.
Corky is a northern resident killer whale captured in Pender Harbour and taken into captivity in 1969 when she was only four years old.
She ended up at SeaWorld San Diego where she’s been performing for decades.
She’s now 50 years old, and Spong says it’s time for her to live out her remaining years near her family off northern Vancouver Island.
“If we build a facility, a retirement home for her in the ocean where she would have an opportunity to meet her family again and interact with them that would be a fantastic thing for her,” said Spong.
And although it’s been more than 45 years since she’s seen them, he has no doubt the bond with her family still exists.
“The history of the calls and the dialects they possess and use in communication with each other last from generation to generation,” he said.
Back in 1993, Spong recorded the sounds from Corky’s A5 pod and an ABC news reporter brought it to SeaWorld to play for her — her reaction was caught on camera.
“I just had no doubt whatsoever at that moment that she totally recognized the sounds of her family,” said Spong.
SeaWorld has previously said releasing its killer whales into the wild would be a death sentence but Spong disagrees.
And with the company’s changing direction he has renewed hope they will allow Corky to come home.
“As long as she’s alive she’s got a chance.”