SeaWorld Opens UAE Orca-Free Park 10 Years After Outcry 2023

SeaWorld, which has been embroiled in controversy over its treatment of killer whales and other marine creatures, launched a vast aquatic life park in the UAE, its first outside the US.

The world’s largest aquarium and cylindrical LED screen are part of Miral’s $1.2 billion project. The park has dolphins and seals, whose confinement and training for profit and amusement are also attacked by animal rights groups.

The Orlando, Florida-based corporation may continue its rebranding after years of criticism and animal cruelty charges at the new facility, which opened last month.

SeaWorld and Miral rejected AP interviews. They did not answer written questions or let AP journalists into the park.

The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” intensified scrutiny of SeaWorld. Tilikum, a 12,000-pound orca, murdered trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010. Captive orcas were portrayed as more aggressive.

The film reduced attendance at SeaWorld’s three US facilities. SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. paid $65 million to resolve a lawsuit accusing it of deceiving investors about the documentary’s financial impact.

SeaWorld’s criticism remain after the “Blackfish” scandal.

In 2016, SeaWorld stopped breeding orcas and performing with them due to criticism. That year, it revealed intentions to develop an orca-free park in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

The company’s promotional materials state that a full-time staff of veterinarians cares for rescued and rehabilitated animals. Its Orlando theme park created a refuge for starving Florida manatees last year. The firm raised $17 million for hundreds of global research and conservation initiatives.

“By leveraging a fundamental SeaWorld design principle of putting animal well-being and care at the core of the design, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi is set to redefine the standards of excellence for marine life theme parks across the world,” said company chairman Scott Ross.

American Humane, the international brand behind film end-credit certificates indicating no animals were injured, certifies the park. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the gold standard for humane certifications, has accredited SeaWorld’s U.S. facilities, but the Abu Dhabi park has not applied for accreditation, according to Jennifer DiNenna, AZA director of accreditation.

“SeaWorld is part of an industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that’s natural and important to them,” said Jason Baker, senior vice president of international campaigns at PETA.

Dolphins swim long distances daily in big, complicated social groupings. They swim endlessly in bathtub-like tanks in captivity.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reprimanded SeaWorld Orlando for animal welfare violations after finding a dolphin “actively bleeding” from “many deep rake marks” and high chlorine levels in the dolphin pools during a December inspection.

In “Blackfish,” former SeaWorld Orlando orca trainer John Jett remarked, “In the wild, if there is aggression between two animals, they can simply swim away into the open ocean.” In captivity, dolphins fight each other, often breaking teeth and raking their bodies.

However, most such creatures are born in confinement and depend on people, making them unsuitable for reintroduction into the wild. Some of Lolita’s previous carers worry she won’t survive her release from the Miami Seaquarium after more than 50 years.

The UAE, home to Dubai, the world’s tallest tower, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, welcomes SeaWorld as another significant tourist destination.

The newly launched Abu Dhabi park has not been accused of dolphin mistreatment.

SeaWorld joins Miral in transforming Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island into a theme park center to rival Orlando. Kevin Hart and Jason Momoa promote the island’s Formula 1 track, water park, and Warner Bros. theme park.

Former Durham University Middle East politics professor Christopher Davidson called it “non-oil diversification and soft power.” “Association with big brands like this serves as a ready-made import to the UAE and automatically increases tourist numbers.”

SeaWorld’s “realm” of traditional cottages and sailboats evokes Abu Dhabi’s pre-oil era, when the sparsely populated emirates thrived on fishing and pearl-diving.

An in-house research center will study Persian Gulf aquatic ecology and conserve endangered animals like the manatee-like dugong.

Jett, the former orca trainer, says SeaWorld has done “really good work” on animal rescue and rehabilitation.

“I wish they would focus more of their energy, expertise, and finances on taking a lead role in moving global policy and helping animals in the wild, rather than finding ways to keep them alive in captivity,” he added.

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