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11 Feb 2020

SeaWorld to end dolphin 'surfing' shows
BY Andy Knaggs

Trainers still stand on dolphins' rostrums as part of the show at SeaWorld San Diego – but not for much longer

Trainers still stand on dolphins' rostrums as part of the show at SeaWorld San Diego – but not for much longer
photo: Shutterstock

Following on from its 2017 decision to end its orca stunt shows in favour of an educational alternative, SeaWorld has announced this week that it will cease the practice of trainers riding on dolphins in its shows.

Animal protection group PETA is a shareholder in SeaWorld, giving it the opportunity to apply pressure from within the organisation. It made the call for SeaWorld to cease using dolphins for "demeaning circus-style shows" in a shareholder proposal in December 2019 but this is only a partial victory for the group, which would like to see an end to keeping the cetaceans in "tiny concrete tanks", with those in captivity moved to "seaside sanctuaries", where they would live in large areas of the ocean while still under the care of humans.

"As part of its transition to more education-focused animal presentations, the company has already made the decision to phase out the two behaviours referred to in the proposal," said SeaWorld in a recent SEC filing, adding that trainers no longer surf on dolphins' backs in any of its locations, and will cease shows with trainers standing on dolphins' snouts "within the next few months".

SeaWorld's treatment of cetaceans has been under the spotlight for a number of years. In 2010 an orca called Tilikum killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando, which was followed by a 2013 documentary, Blackfish, about the killer whale. Three years later the company announced it was to stop its orca breeding programme. Tilikum died in 2017, after 30 years in captivity.

Despite stopping the practice, SeaWorld says that contrary to PETA's assertions, it does not believe the activity is harmful to its dolphins and that the safety and wellbeing of the animals under its care are "central to the company's mission".



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