SeaWorld Announces new Whale Environment and new Funding for Research and Conservation

SeaWorld always does things in a big way, and its recent announcement just might be its biggest endeavor yet.

From the press release …

SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. has announced plans to build a new, first-of-its-kind killer whale environment as well as fund new programs to protect ocean health and killer whales in the wild. The new projects will build upon SeaWorld’s legacy of providing state-of-the-art, innovative, homes for its animals. It will also offer park guests unique and inspiring killer whale encounters for generations to come. As part of its vision for the future, the company 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.”

Photo: PRNewsFoto/SeaWorld Entertainment

Photo: PRNewsFoto/SeaWorld Entertainment

New Environments

The first of the new killer whale environments will be built at SeaWorld San Diego. It 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, this 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 guests 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, which is slated to begin construction in 2015,  is expected to open to the public in 2018, and new killer whale homes will follow at SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Antonio.

Photo: PRNewsFoto/SeaWorld Entertainment

Photo: PRNewsFoto/SeaWorld Entertainment

Killer Whale Research

As part of the Blue World Project, SeaWorld has committed $10 million in matching funds focused on threats to killer whales in the wild, especially those identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) related to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale. This initiative includes new projects already funded this year: one that will help to understand the hearing ranges of killer whales and one that will provide insight into nutritional status and reproduction of the Southern Resident Killer Whale. The matching funds will be in addition to killer whale research conducted by SeaWorld’s scientists, which included nearly 50 studies to date.

Recognizing that ocean health is a leading concern for killer whales and all marine mammals in the wild, the company also announced that it will be embarking on a major multi-million dollar partnership focused on protecting the ocean. More details of the partnership will be announced in the coming weeks.

Whale Environment Advisory Panel

An independent advisory panel will bring new perspectives and ideas to SeaWorld’s killer whale environment project. The panel will focus on the creation of an environment that mazimizes the health and well-being of the animals. The panel will also advise on integrated research projects that can be conducted within the new environment and foster partnerships within the science and academic communities working in the wild.

Advisory Panel Members

  • Dr. Paul Boyle, Senior Vice President for Conservation and Education, Association of Zoos & Aquariums
  • Dr. Dorian Houser, Director of Conservation and Biological Research, National Marine Mammal Foundation
  • Dr. Linda Lowenstein, Professor Emeritus Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
  • Dr. Shawn Noren, Associate Research Scientist, Institute of Marine Science, University of California Santa Cruz
  • Mr. Tom Otten, Chief Executive Officer, Reef Experience
  • Dr. James F. Peddie, DVM, Distinguished Faculty chair, Exotic Animal Training and Management Program, Moorpark College
  • Dr. Paul Ponganis, Research Physiologist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Dr. Kwane Stewart, Chief Veterinary Officer and National Director, Film and Television Unit, American Humane Association
  • Dr. Pam Yochem, Senior Research Scientist and Executive Vice President, Research, Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute

“I have high expectations for SeaWorld in light of today’s announcement that major investments will improve the experience and outcomes for whales both in their parks and in the wild,” said California Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins. “SeaWorld’s decision to engage with an independent scientific advisory panel is a reassuring sign for the ongoing health and welfare of these amazing creatures. Given the San Diego region’s leadership in the life sciences, I expect orcas and other whale species to directly benefit from the research and advances that come from the academic and scientific partnerships SeaWorld is building to address whale habitat and ocean health.”

Jim Atchison, Chief Executive Officer and President of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. …

“Like so many others in science and industry, we are constantly learning more about how we can evolve our knowledge and continue to learn more about these amazing animals and stewardship of those in the wild. We look forward to working with these experts to build on these learnings and achieve our vision of increased knowledge of killer whales and global efforts to protect those in the wild. “

Proposed site plan Photo: PRNewsFoto/SeaWorld Entertainment

Proposed site plan
Photo: PRNewsFoto/SeaWorld Entertainment

For more information on the Blue World Project, please visit www.seaworld.com/blueworld.

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