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Saturday, December 9, 2023

SeaWorld Unveils Orca-Free Park in UAE, Its First Project Outside the U.S.


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — American theme park chain SeaWorld, embroiled in recent controversy over its treatment of killer whales and other marine mammals, has opened a major new aquatic park in the United Arab Emirates, its first outside the United States. The first aquatic life park.

The $1.2 billion joint venture with state-owned developer Miral features the world’s largest aquarium and cylindrical LED screens. There are no orcas here, but the park is home to animals such as dolphins and seals, and their captivity and training for profit and entertainment has often been criticized as immoral by animal rights advocacy groups.

Emirates Sea World

People ride a roller coaster at Sea World on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 26.

Kamran Jebreli, Associated Press

The new facility opened to tourists last month, giving the Orlando, Fla.-based company a foothold in the fast-growing international tourist destination and a chance to continue rebuilding after years of criticism and allegations of animal cruelty. plastic brand.

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SeaWorld and Miral declined interview requests. They also did not answer written questions or allow Associated Press reporters into the park.

After the release of “Black Fish”, the attention to the sea world reached its peak. This 2013 documentary focuses on the life of Tilikum. Tillikum, a 12,000-pound orca, was killed in 2010 when her trainer, Dawn Brancheau, dragged her into a pool at SeaWorld Orlando. The film suggested that captive orcas could become more aggressive.

The movie caused attendance at SeaWorld’s three parks to plummet. SeaWorld Entertainment later agreed to pay $65 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it misled investors about the documentary’s impact on its bottom line.

SeaWorld halted its orca breeding program and live whale shows in 2016 in the face of mounting criticism. That same year, it announced plans to create a killer whale-free park in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The company’s promotional materials claim that it is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals and has a full-time veterinary staff to ensure they are well cared for.

Last year, its Orlando theme park opened a facility to care for Florida manatees dying of starvation in their natural habitat. The company said it has raised $17 million to support hundreds of research and conservation projects around the world.

The park is certified International by the Humane Society of the United States, the brand behind the ultimate credit that no animals were harmed in the film’s production. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, widely regarded as the gold standard for humane certification, has certified SeaWorld’s U.S. facilities, but Abu Dhabi Parks has yet to submit an application for accreditation, said AZA Accreditation Director Jennifer DiNenna.

The steps taken since the Blackfish controversy have not appeased some of SeaWorld’s critics.

“SeaWorld is part of an industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social creatures who are deprived of what is important to them,” said Jason Baker, senior vice president of international campaigns at PETA. Say everything natural and important.”

“In nature, dolphins live in large and complex social groups and swim great distances every day. In captivity, they are limited to endless swimming in a tank, which to them is the equivalent of a bathtub. “

In December, during a regular inspection of SeaWorld Orlando, the USDA found the company in violation of animal welfare regulations, finding a dolphin “bleeding profusely” from “many deep rake marks” and chlorine levels in the dolphin pool Exceeded the standard.

The newly opened Abu Dhabi park has yet to receive reports of abuse, nor has the park responded to questions about its treatment of dolphins.

John Jeter, a former orca trainer at SeaWorld Orlando, spoke out against the practice in “Blackfish,” saying: “In the wild, if there’s an attack between two animals, they can swim right out into the open ocean.” But in captivity, where these animals are trapped, you see dolphin-on-dolphin aggression, which often manifests as broken teeth and bobbing up and down on their bodies.”

At the same time, he said, the animals are less suitable for release into the wild because most of them are kept in captivity and depend on humans for survival. Lolita, an orca that has been held in captivity for more than half a century at the Miami Seaquarium, plans to release her, raising concerns among some of her former caregivers that she may not survive the ordeal .

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