Watershed changes in SeaWorld's orcas policy

Last Updated Mar 17, 2016 12:33 PM EDT

SeaWorld announced Thursday that the killer whales in its care will be the last generation of orcas at the wildlife theme park chain.

"We are going to end our orca breeding. ... Obviously that's a very difficult decision for us, but we feel it's the right one for the future of the organization," SeaWorld president and CEO Joel Manby said Thursday on "CBS This Morning."

SeaWorld will phase out their theatrical shows, he added.

"So it'll be more naturalistic show and environment for our orcas, and we're going to teach all of our customers about the plight of them in the wild," Manby said.

The theme park will also partner with the Human Society of the United States and commit $50 million for the next five years to help animals in the wild.

"I think in Joel, a new leader at SeaWorld, we had this opportunity, and we're very excited about the end of orca breeding. We're excited about the idea that SeaWorld is going to do more rescue and rehabilitation, and together we're going to be advocates to fight commercial sealing, commercial whaling," Humane Society president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, sitting alongside Manby. "These are big, macro-level problems for marine mammals, so once we settle some of the issues at SeaWorld, then we can look outside and address and help these beautiful creatures who need our best."

"We just feel like in this society today, there's so much monologue, talking against each other, that we wanted to dialogue and try to find where we have commonalities," Manby said. "Both organizations love animals. We have very dedicated professionals. We all love animals. So let's work to help animals in the wild."

The shakeup comes after years of controversy, including the recent revelation that SeaWorld employees posed as animal rights activists to spy on PETA, which complained about the company's treatment of its orcas.

For years, animal advocacy groups have argued the family-friendly shows at SeaWorld hide a more troubling reality below the surface.

The 2013 documentary "Blackfish" cast a harsh spotlight on SeaWorld's operations. The company disputed many of the film's accusations of animal abuse and neglect.

"Blackfish" tells the story of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed six years ago by an orca named Tilikum. Since that incident, SeaWorld no longer allows trainers in the pools with killer whales.

The "Blackfish" backlash led to the resignation of CEO Jim Atchison in 2014, with Manby named the new CEO in March of last year. Since the film's release, SeaWorld's stock price and park attendance have plummeted.

Asked whether this announcement was a business decision, Manby responded, "not really."

"It's about where society is shifting. I have seen clearly that society is changing their attitudes about these unbelievable, majestic animals, being in human care. And as we see that shift, we felt we had to move," he explained. "Now clearly, if the customers appreciate what you do more, they're going to come to your park more, and there's going to be a benefit to it, there's no doubt."

The company has since instituted other reforms. But critics have said the changes do little to improve the animals' living conditions, and the bad press continues for SeaWorld.

Tilikum remains in captivity, and the company said he is now suffering from an incurable bacterial infection.