No animal is as closely linked to SeaWorld as the orca. The black-and-white whales are the big draw for the theme park, so much so that they figured heavily into the logo for SeaWorld's 50th anniversary celebrations. But criticism of the park's treatment of these animals has been building for years, and management has apparently decided to cave: It was just announced that the orca shows will be phased out at its flagship San Diego location.
SeaWorld has been under fire since the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish, which exposed abuses of the whales and questioned the safety of performing with them in captivity. It also showed that a large percentage of the whales in SeaWorld's shows were the descendants of Tillikum, a whale with behavioral issues who is prone to violence. The park has spent millions pushing back against the documentary's allegations, which it denies, but that hasn't helped: Protests of SeaWorld over the the last couple years have grown louder and more intense, especially in California, and attendance has declined.
On Friday, California Representative Adam Schiff said he would introduce a bill in Congress that would ban the breeding or capture of orcas that would be used in performances. The California Coastal Commission has banned the breeding of orcas in captivity, a decision which SeaWorld is fighting. Perhaps most importantly, Steve-O of Jackass fame scaled a 100-foot crane in Hollywood with an inflatable orca with words "SeaWorld Sucks" on it and spent 30 days in prison as a result.
It remains unclear whether SeaWorld plans to phase out shows featuring killer whales at its parks in Texas and Florida.