(CNN) — The killer whales currently in SeaWorld’s care will be the last generation of the mammals enclosed at the water parks, according to a company announcement posted on its website.
“Why the big news? SeaWorld has been listening and we’re changing. Society is changing and we’re changing with it,” the company said. “SeaWorld is finding new ways to continue to deliver on our purpose to inspire all our guest to take action to protect wild animals and wild places.”
The company has come under fire for its treatment of killer whales since the 2013 CNN documentary “Blackfish.” That film profiled one of its whales, Tilikum, who has been involved in the deaths of three people, including SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
Reports recently surfaced that Tilikum may be dying. He is estimated to be 35 years old.
“The orcas will continue to live at SeaWorld for many years to come, inspiring guests in new and natural ways,” the company said. “They will continue to receive the highest-quality care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine, science and zoological best practices.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said SeaWorld had not gone far enough.
“PETA has campaigned hard, and now there is a payoff for future generations of orcas — but today is the day to stop breeding, not sometime later this year,” said Elisa Allen, associate director of the organization. “SeaWorld must open its tanks to the oceans to allow the orcas it now holds captive to have some semblance of a life outside these prison tanks.”
In a letter to the Los Angeles Times, Joel Manby, SeaWorld’s president and CEO, called the situation a “paradox.”
“Customers visit our marine parks, in part, to watch orcas,” he said. “But a growing number of people don’t think orcas belong in human care.”
He announced that the company is partnering with the Humane Society of the United States to advocate for ocean wildlife protection.
The company says the end of the controversial breeding program is just one of changes it is hailing as “historic.”
It will also introduce new “natural orca encounters” instead of the old theatrical shows.
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-California, who sponsored legislation to protect orcas, applauded the decision.
“I am thrilled to see the wave of opposition build to where SeaWorld finally has done the right thing and ended their captive breeding program of orcas,” he said in a statement.