'Blackfish' Director Says SeaWorld's New Orca Experience Doesn't "Change Anything for the Animals"

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Gabriela Cowperthwaite

"Until they stop the breeding and retire their whales into sea sanctuaries we just can't let up," Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who helmed the documentary that slammed the amusement park's captivity of orcas, says in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Steve-O and other Hollywood activists are weighing in on SeaWorld's decision to cancel its controversial orca shows in San Diego beginning next year.

The news was first reported Monday by the San Diego Union-Tribune, which stated that though the traditional show wouldn't be abandoned altogether, it would be replaced with "one that is less about tricks and more about orcas' natural behaviors in the wild."

"I've been anxiously awaiting details on Sea World's plans. I am always optimistic when I hear that there is some semblance of change. But it appears that they are not stopping their orca shows at all. Just repurposing them. I'm afraid this is just the latest attempt to survive the PR nightmare that is Sea World," Cowperthwaite said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "And after all this time, I almost bought it. But then again, we all bought into the myth of the happy Shamu for 50 years. Spin has always been their greatest strength. But until they stop the breeding and retire their whales into sea sanctuaries we just can't let up. Nothing else they're doing truly changes anything for the animals. It just makes us feel better about watching the shows."

The director's efforts in shedding light on the living conditions of captive killer whales with the release of Blackfish played a part in bringing negative publicity to SeaWorld, which saw lower attendance rates after the documentary was released in 2013.

Jackass star Steve-O, who was recently charged with 30 days in jail for climbing a construction crane in Hollywood to raise awareness of the treatment of animals at SeaWorld, also weighed in on the development, telling THR that he believes Sea World repurposing its San Diego orca shows is just a "step in the right direction."

"I'll be the first to admit that my latest SeaWorld protest was idiotic and illegal, but it was also quite effective. Since the news broke about my 30-day jail sentence for it, California banned breeding of captive orcas, AND SeaWorld has now announced it will cancel its orca show in San Diego beginning in 2017," he says. "It totally sucks that they will still be allowed to keep orcas imprisoned until 2017 (and that there is no news like this coming from their other locations), but it's a step in the right direction and I like to think I helped make that happen. I hope they will issue a specific and concrete timeline for when we can expect these long-overdue changes to take place."

Orange Is the New Black actor Jason Biggs called SeaWorld's decision to modify its orca shows a result of the "Blackfish effect," but added that he was skeptical of how the new shows at the amusement park would play out.

"While this is certainly positive news, and a wonderful reflection of the impact of anti-SeaWorld activism and the Blackfish effect, this does not end here. If anything, it should act as encouragement to keep pressing them harder," he tells THR. "SeaWorld still plans on keeping Orcas in captivity, in a more 'natural' setting and with a 'conservation-oriented theme.' This is not OK. Until all of the orcas are rehabilitated and released, any move on the part of SeaWorld is merely an attempt to placate and go back to business as usual."

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