In yet another major setback for the beleaguered marine park, one of the world's leading travel companies has announced that it will no longer be offering trips to SeaWorld or other tourism destinations which capitalize on the exploitation of animals.
STA Travel, a billion-dollar company with over 200 branches worldwide, says the decision to stop providing tours to SeaWorld, as well as elephant ride operators in Thailand, was made due to ethical concerns about supporting facilities that have a questionable history in terms of how animals under their care are treated.
"We are constantly assessing our products to make sure they are of a high quality and responsible. We take this seriously and listen carefully to feedback from animal welfare experts, customers and staff. If something isn't up to our standards, we remove it," says STA's social responsibility programmer, Kathryn Kirkpatrick.
The move follows a growing backlash towards the marine park in the wake of the documentary "Blackfish", which has been instrumental in changing mainstream perceptions about orcas in captivity. Earlier this week, SeaWorld reported a 13 percent decline in attendance during the first quarter of 2014, a figure which will potentially slip further now that STA Travel has withdrawn support.
STA is considered the world's largest travel company among students and young people, providing travel packages to around 2.5 million of them every year.
A representative from SeaWorld tells the Guardian that STA's decision is "disappointing", saying that they were not given the opportunity to "share with them our high standards of care and the rigorous inspection and accreditation process that assures the health and well-being of our animals".
But readily available documentation about SeaWorld's treatment of orcas was likely behind customer concerns which led STA to cancel the trips to the marine park.
Beyond the immediate moral questions raised by keeping large, intelligent animals in the close confines of marine park pools, other factors have since further stoked the controversy surrounding orcas in captivity -- such as SeaWorld's admitting that it administers anti-anxiety medication similar to Valium to its whales.
More recently, the sighting of a 103-year-old orca in the waters off of Canada has cast doubts on SeaWorld's repeated claims that their animals have a greater life expectancy than in the wild, suggesting that the truth is quite the opposite.
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