SeaWorld unveils ‘natural habitat’ attraction to replace killer whale show

Just over a year after SeaWorld announced they would be phasing out their “theatrical” orca shows, SeaWorld San Diego has debuted its next-generation replacements.

Over the weekend, SeaWorld San Diego held a soft opening for its “Orca Encounter” and “Ocean Explorer” experiences — two attractions that will replace the “Shamu” shows that have drawn steady backlash from animal-rights activists and politicians in recent years.

The “Orca Encounter,” much like the original Shamu shows, will continue to feature performances from killer whales and their trainers. But as a reviewer for The L.A. Times notes, the orcas now play second-fiddle to a 138-foot high-definition infinity screen playing a “scientific edutainment” film for the audience. Any appearance of the actual killer whales — or their choreographed behaviors — is supplemented with additional footage of orcas performing those behaviors in the wild.


SeaWorld’s new “Orca Encouter” also takes place in the same arena as its previous “Shamu” shows, albeit redressed with a Pacific Northwest background.

Fox 5 San Diego shared a live clip of “Ocra Encounter” from SeaWorld San Diego on Wednesday, when the attraction officially opened to guests:

Meanwhile, the new “Ocean Explorer” area features rides, an aquarium, and a Submarine Quest attraction that puts guests on a “mission of scientific discovery,” according to the SeaWorld website.

A third new area, to be called “Electric Ocean,” is slated to open later this summer as a nighttime experience for guests: SeaWorld’s website bills itself as “Electric Ocean” as an after-dark destination where “world-class DJs transform the night into an all-ages club beneath the waves.”


Brady MacDonald, the reviewer for The L.A. Times, described the current additions to SeaWorld San Deigo as “slow and boring,” but it remains to be seen how activists will view the changes from an animal-rights standpoint.

SeaWorld originally announced the end of its “Shamu” shows in March 2016, via an open letter SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby penned for The L.A. Times. In it, he acknowledged an “attitudinal change” in the way the public views captive orcas, and assured that the parks would be phasing out their “theatrical” orca productions in favor of “natural orca encounters.”

Manby also announced the end of the captive breeding program at SeaWorld, though he claimed SeaWorld would not be releasing the born-in-captivity whales back into the wild, as it’s “not a wise option.”

“Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld, and those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives. If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die,” wrote Manby.


Manby’s 2016 statement also came just a few years after the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which accused SeaWorld of mishandling and mistreating the mammals. The documentary further focused on an orca named Tilikum, who killed his trainer during a live show in 2010.

SeaWorld San Diego’s “Orca Encouter” and “Ocean Explorer” attractions are currently open. The “Electric Ocean” area is slated to launch on June 17.