Press Release

As SeaWorld’s CEO Joel Manby Steps Down—What Will Become of His Corporate Policy Promises?


California – Two years ago, in an effort to rehabilitate SeaWorld’s image from a company that profits off cruelty, Manby promised that SeaWorld would “voluntarily” cease its orca breeding program and would phase out its theatrical orca shows nationwide. (This was only after the California Coastal Commission, at the urging of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, stated that SeaWorld could only expand its San Diego facility on the condition that it would no longer breed orcas.)

Skeptical of relying simply on corporate policy to protect animals, advocates and legislators in California passed the country’s first orca protection act, codifying these corporate promises into state law.

Unfortunately, for orcas outside of California there are reasons to fear that Manby’s departure marks the end of any optimism that SeaWorld will continue to abide by the previous CEO’s promises. That’s one reason the Animal Legal Defense Fund is drafting legislation — including the Florida Orca Protection Act — and calling on lawmakers in Texas and Florida, the states with captive orcas, to pass stronger orca protection laws now. These laws are urgently needed.

“Orcas are among the most intelligent, emotionally complex creatures on this earth. It is undeniably cruel to keep them in captivity,” said the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s executive director Stephen Wells. “Relying on a SeaWorld CEO’s promises to treat orcas well is not enough, particularly once that CEO resigns. SeaWorld can break promises, but not laws. We need laws in place that will truly ensure these animals’ protection.”

Even before Manby’s resignation, we’d already been seeing troubling hints of SeaWorld walking back its promises. The Tampa Bay Times discovered that an orca named Morgan who was owned by SeaWorld, but loaned to another aquatic theme park, was pregnant. She’d been impregnated despite SeaWorld’s announced no-breeding policy.

SeaWorld also sent its high-paid lobbyists to Tallahassee to fight the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Florida Orca Protection Act, legislation introduced this session by Rep. Jared Moskowitz that would have made the current orcas in the state its last, and made captive breeding illegal.

Despite the Orca Protection Act simply codifying SeaWorld’s promise into law, SeaWorld was relentless in ensuring that the bill would not make it out of committee and SeaWorld was successful in its efforts.

Two years ago, SeaWorld promised that this current generation of captive orcas would be the last. The person who made that promise is now gone. Is the promise gone now, too? We do know the orcas are counting on us—and why the Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue to fight for orca protection laws.