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SeaWorld Explains Why It Stopped Breeding Orcas

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SeaWorld has admitted what's behind its recent decision to stop breeding orcas, and it's not welfare. It's money.

Earlier this month, SeaWorld announced that it would stop breeding orcas, making the two dozen in its care the company's last generation of captive whales. The decision was praised as an overdue step forward for the company, but many questioned whether this was a true change of heart for the embattled company or just a response to several years of troubled stock prices and profits.

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby cleared that right up during a webcast with the public on Wednesday.

"We understand some customers are upset and you may feel betrayed, but in a simple way, the data and trends showed it was either a SeaWorld without whales or a world without SeaWorld," he said. "We are an organization that needs to have cash flow to [succeed] and unfortunately, the trends were not in our favor."

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Yes, Manby used "unfortunately" to describe SeaWorld's decision to end its breeding program.

Of course, SeaWorld's a profit-driven company - not an animal rescue group - so it's not unexpected that the company would be driven by its stockholders' welfare over that of its whales. But Manby's admission is a reminder that the company's PR team seems to be running the show, and that it seems to be the same old SeaWorld behind the scenes.

SeaWorld's already made that clear in the days since the breeding ban. When people responded to its apparently humane decision by wondering whether SeaWorld would relocate the remaining orcas to sea sanctuaries - the logical next step if SeaWorld were truly committed to animal welfare - the company released a statement decrying sea sanctuaries as a "death sentence" for its whales.

Among other things, SeaWorld said that sea sanctuaries would be even worse than dropping the captive-bred orcas into the middle of the ocean alone - a claim one marine biologist described as "ludicrous" - and said that they'd be at risk of "hurricanes." The company seemed to forget that the U.S. Navy successfully keeps dolphins in sea pens just down the coast from SeaWorld San Diego.

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And on Friday, SeaWorld seized a PR opportunity to sign its name to a Humane Society of the United Statesletter calling on the White House to take action against Japan's commercial whaling activities - while ignoring the fact that its own tanks are filled with overcrowded orcas and dolphins who have reportedly ripped strips of skin off each other, attacked one another and even killed each other.

Of course, any decisions that are good for animals should be welcomed, regardless of the reason behind them. But it's important to remember that, as SeaWorld rolls out its new conservation-minded PR plan, there's a big difference between talking about how many animals you save and actually doing something for the animals already in your care.

Because, right now, there are still dozens of animals SeaWorld's fighting to keep in its tanks - and things aren't getting any better for them.