SeaWorld & The Humane Society of the United States: Betrayal of the Zoological Community?

In bed with the enemy? Joel Manby the president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment with Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States on Fox News.

It is not unreasonable to question whether or not the zoological community would feel comfortable in working with an organisation such as SeaWorld when they have decided to affiliate themselves with a known animal-rights group.

On Thursday, March 17, 2016, the SeaWorld group of marine parks announced that they have decided to discontinue its successful breeding programme with their killer whales from immediate effect.  This was announced on their website and in a letter to the Los Angeles Times from Joel Manby the president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.  Moreover, in a further revelation it was announced that SeaWorld had also decided to go into collaboration with the animal-rights group the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

This news of the cessation of the breeding programme and the collaboration between SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the United States came as a shock to many supporters of SeaWorld and members of the zoological community across the world.  Although, it is quite clear that this was undertaken as a business decision by Manby and specifically to reassure company stockholders and Wall Street.  This is after all why Manby was placed in the position of CEO less than a year ago with a remit to turn the business around.

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States stated after the official announcement that:



 The fact that Pacelle uses the words “animal-rights” in his statement rather than “animal welfare” should be a huge concern to anyone who is disturbed about the motivation of this partnership.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is a controversial organisation and was heavily involved in the promotion of the film “Blackfish”.  This organisation has regularly attacked SeaWorld and is opposed to keeping of all marine mammals in captivity with little ambiguity to this fact stated on their website:
“...Life for captive whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals is nothing like a life in the ocean. It is almost impossible to maintain a family group in captivity, a tragedy for whales and dolphins. When you see marine mammals in tanks or pools, consider what they have lost in order to entertain us...”


HSUS is also not a friend to zoos and aquariums around the world.  It recently has been lobbying to stop the export from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in the United States which is going to donate a group of retired chimpanzees to a Wingham Wildlife Park in the United Kingdom. HSUS claim that the receiving zoo is not accredited.  However, this is completely misleading.  Since 1981 all British zoos must comply with the Zoo Licensing Act which lays down a comprehensive, stringent and evolving set of standards for zoos to operate – the Secretary of State Standards of Modern Zoo Practice – which subject zoos to periodic inspection and licensing.  This legislation goes far beyond accreditation by a trade body such as The American Association of Zoos.


SeaWorld holds the biggest genetic pool of captive bred killer whales and has been leaders in the world regarding the reproduction of this species.  However, it is not the only facility to hold or breed killer whales with countries such as France and Japan exhibiting breeding groups of killer whales.  Moreover, China announced in early 2017 that it is commencing a killer whale breeding programme.  With the removal of the breeding programme at SeaWorld and the effective discontinuation of reproductive cooperation between zoological collections around the world (which would include the supply of semen for Artificial Insemination), many aquariums and parks that wish to continue to breed killer whales are going to have to reassess their positions.

Further, one of the major repercussions of this decision from SeaWorld is that inevitably this will mean that more killer whales will now be caught from the wild to satisfy the growing aquarium and theme park business particularly its growth market in Asia and specifically China.  It is likely that Russian animal dealers will be considerably pleased that they now have a very lucrative market in supplying animals to these areas of the world as well as their own home market.  One projection suggests that within the next decade China may well be displaying at least 50 killer whales in their aquariums and theme parks.

Finally, one of the issues that has not really been addressed regarding this situation is a question of trust.  The zoological community are subject to continuing campaigns regarding their operations from the animal-rights lobby.  It is not unreasonable to question whether or not the zoological community would feel comfortable in working with an organisation such as SeaWorld when they have decided to affiliate themselves with a known animal-rights group.  Whilst SeaWorld might try and offer assurance that confidential discussions between zoological facilities would not be revealed to their associates at the Humane Society for United States, after what has happened would anyone blame them for not believing such reassurances.

In conclusion, it is clear that Joel Manby believed his first priority was to the shareholders and investors in SeaWorld.  Unfortunately, he may come to reflect that his decision has created a number of problems and repercussions that possibly did not first occur to him when running what was a world-class zoological collection specialising in marine mammals.

Update Feburay 2018: Joe Manby stepped down as CEO of SeaWorld  on the 27th of February 2018. This follows the resignation of Wayne Pacelle CEO of the Humane Society United States earlier that same month after allegations of sexual harassment.