SeaWorld San Diego is ending its long-running killer whale show after years of outcry and falling attendance prompted it to renounce theatrical orca displays and its breeding program, the AP reports. The show that featured killer whales cavorting with trainers and leaping high out of the Shamu Stadium pool will have its final performances on Sunday. This summer, the park will unveil a new attraction in the revamped pool. Orca Encounter is being billed as an educational experience that will show how killer whales eat, communicate, and navigate. The animals will still receive cues from trainers, however. As the San Diego Union-Tribune describes it, the main difference will be the loss of the "Cirque du Soleil-like moves" the whales are known for doing, as well as other theatrical elements like fountains and dramatic music. A new backdrop will also show a scene similar to the whales' natural environment, including artificial trees, cliffs, and waterfalls.
SeaWorld has seen attendance fall since the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which chronicled the life of Tilikum, an orca that killed a SeaWorld trainer during a performance in Orlando in 2010, criticized conditions of captive orcas, implying that confinement made them more aggressive. The movie's director has told CBS that the new orca show was designed to make the audience feel better, not the animals. "The trainers aren't safe, and the whales aren't happy," Gabriela Cowperthwaite said. "They're still just doing manic circles around concrete swimming pools." In the new show, "You will still see a whale leaping out of the water," Al Garver, a former orca trainer and vice president of zoological operations, acknowledged to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We want to be able to demonstrate behaviors people would see in the wild." He acknowledged the sense of mourning some are associating with the end of the Shamu shows may be "a little overblown." SeaWorld parks in Orlando and San Antonio will end their Shamu shows by 2019. Tilikum died recently at SeaWorld Orlando.