VILLAGE Roadshow has pledged never to stock orcas or wild-caught animals in any theme parks it operates as parks overseas come under increasing scrutiny over animal welfare.
The operator of Sea World on the Gold Coast has long been forced to distance itself from the beleaguered United States park with an almost identical name — SeaWorld.
However the distance has been closing since Village Roadshow signed a “letter of intent” with its US rival to co-develop theme parks in China, South-East Asia, India and Russia.
SeaWorld in the US has been dogged by controversy since 2013 and the documentaryBlackfish, which horrifyingly revealed its alleged mistreatment of orca whales that are held in captivity and used in its signature live performances.
Plummeting visitor numbers and share prices ensued, and the CEO was sacked.
An application last month for them to dramatically increase the size of their orca tanks was approved on condition they cease breeding the captive mammals.
A mega-marine park on Hainan Island, Ocean Paradise, was due to open by 2017, managed by Village Roadshow and owned by Guangzhou R & F Properties, but it’s now on hold indefinitely due to construction delays.
Village Roadshow is also working with Malaysian group Sunway to investigate a hybrid Sea World and ride park at Johor Bahru.
In an email to members last week Sarah Lucas, CEO of the Australia for Dolphins Group called for a nationwide ban on keeping dolphins in “tiny chlorinated tanks”.
“It makes me sick to think Village Roadshow and Sea World are responsible for the welfare of so many captive dolphins here in Australia,” she wrote. “... these greedy corporations care far more about profit than animal welfare.”
A spokesman for Village Roadshow said all animals kept in parks it managed would be sourced from captive breeding programs.
“No cetaceans will be sourced from wild stocks at any park Village Roadshow Theme Parks manages nor are there any plans to house orcas,” he said.
“Village Roadshow Theme Parks is very proud of its Australian operations and has a strong reputation for caring for animals, along with an exemplary record of animal care, research and rescue accomplishments.
“Conservation and education will play a large role in all our businesses and we aim to educate visitors to our marine parks about the value of marine life and the environment.”