SeaWorld Orlando's Tilikum improving; PETA says orcas should be placed in sea sanctuaries

- SeaWorld Orlando says the health of its killer whale Tilikum is improving.  The company posted an update on its Facebook page over the weekend.  "Tilikum's energy level and appetite have improved. He continues to have up and down days, but he is receiving the best care possible," the post read. 

Earlier this month, the whale's health appeared to be deteriorating due to what veterinary and animal care teams believed was a bacterial infection in his lungs.  Then last week, SeaWorld made a surprise announcement that it would no longer breed killer whales in captivity and would soon stop making them leap from their pools or splash audiences on command.

"Society's attitude toward these very, very large, majestic animals under human care has shifted for a variety of reasons, whether it's a film, legislation, people's comments on the Internet," SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Joel Manby said. "It wasn't worth fighting that. We needed to move where society was moving."

Attendance at SeaWorld's parks declined after the 2013 release of "Blackfish," a highly critical documentary. Some top musical acts dropped out of SeaWorld-sponsored concerts at the urging of animal rights activists, who kept up a visible presence demonstrating outside the parks' gates.

Now that SeaWorld has decided to end its breeding program, a national animal rights group says it wants the company to move the orcas it still owns to sea sanctuaries.  PETA said in a statement issued Monday that it will file the shareholders' request next year.

Sea sanctuaries are pens that allow orcas to be in the ocean without giving them total freedom in the wild. Manby has said that the orcas are best off in the parks, where trainers and veterinarians can take care of them.

PETA bought a number of shares when SeaWorld went public in 2013 so that it could make resolutions. PETA spokesman David Perle said the group will withdraw its now-moot resolution asking the company to end the breeding program.

For now, SeaWorld's 29 killer whales will remain in captivity, but in "new, inspiring natural orca encounters," according to the company. SeaWorld's orcas range in age from 1 to 51 years old, so some could remain on display for decades.

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