To Appear Less Heartless, SeaWorld Is Building Bigger Bathtubs for Its Killer Whales

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A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 15 2014 12:01 PM

To Appear Less Heartless, SeaWorld Is Building Bigger Bathtubs for Its Killer Whales

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Killer whales at SeaWorld will be getting fancier prison cells.

Photo by SeaWorld via Getty Images

SeaWorld Entertainment has finally acknowledged that public revulsion over the company’s treatment of its killer whales is hurting business—and a few oh-so-lucky cetaceans will get to enjoy their very own “water treadmill” as a result. On Wednesday, SeaWorld’s stock price crashed by about a third after management delivered an earnings report chock full of dismal revenue and attendance figures. Today, according to the Wall Street Journal, SeaWorld is responding by announcing plans to spruce up its orca habitats. They will now have bigger, fancier swimming pools to call home:

The company plans to upgrade the killer whale tanks at three of its theme parks, beginning with the San Diego location. The new enclosure in San Diego will be almost double the size of the current one, holding about 10 million gallons of water and extending to a depth of 50 feet. The company wouldn't specify the cost of the upgrades, only saying it would be several hundred million dollars.          
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And about that new exercise equipment:

The San Diego facility will include a "water treadmill" system letting the whales swim against a stream of moving water, allowing them more exercise but also opening the door to new research into how the animals burn energy. The system will be the first of its kind in the world, the company says.

More exercise will be nice. None of this addresses the fundamental issue: that these are massive, highly social mammals, who normally travel upwards of 100 miles in a day, and who are being kept in captivity in order to do tricks for tourists. A bigger bathtub prison is still a bathtub prison.  

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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