SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) on Friday said it would reconsider its proposed $100 million expansion of a holding facility for killer whales in California in the wake of new rules prohibiting the theme-park operator from breeding orcas.
The ruling could mark the beginning of the end for SeaWorld's killer whale shows, the park's top -- albeit in recent years controversial -- attraction. Shares of the company fell more than 5 percent on Friday.
After a meeting that reportedly drew hundreds of SeaWorld opponents and supporters, California regulators on Thursday approved SeaWorld's plan to construct larger quarters for its killer whales at its park in San Diego, but the green light came with strings attached.
The California Coastal Commission, which oversees seaside developments in the state, barred SeaWorld from breeding whales at the facility, a ruling that could means the 11 orcas now at the park would be the last. The commission also imposed conditions on transporting whales in and out of the park.
"We are disappointed with the conditions they have placed on their approval," Joel Manby, SeaWorld's president and CEO, stated in a release. "Depriving these social animals of the natural and fundamental right to reproduce is inhumane and we do not support this condition."
The Orlando, Florida-based company has been the target of animal-welfare activists since the documentary "Blackfish" came out in 2013. The film made the case that killer whales should not be held in captivity, arguing that confining orcas is cruel and makes them hostile.
Asked about the idea of relocating whales to sea pens, Manby rejected the notion at the company's annual shareholder meeting in June, saying: "Uncontrollable exposure to pollution, ocean debris, life-threatening pathogens in ocean waters are just a few of the factors that make sea pens an unhealthy living environment and very risky for any of our animals."
SeaWorld last year said it would expand its tanks at parks in Florida, Texas and California. The San Diego facility was initially scheduled to open in 2018.