Animal rights group PETA is claiming a victory over SeaWorld now that the theme park chain’s dolphin trainers will no longer ride on animals’ backs and mouths during performances. SeaWorld, however, counters that the decision wasn’t motivated by PETA. 

In a press release, PETA credits its activism for bringing an end to what it deems “dolphin surfing.” These efforts included having Alec Baldwin ask a question about the practice at the company’s annual online meeting last June.

“Stopping trainers from treating dolphins like surfboards means less abuse at SeaWorld, but orcas and other dolphins continue to suffer in tiny concrete tanks,” PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman said in a statement. “The company seems intent on being dragged, kicking and screaming, into ultimately releasing these animals to seaside sanctuaries. PETA is calling on it to put a plan in place now.”

Orlando Rising asked SeaWorld Orlando’s parent company, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, what motivated the changes to the dolphin shows

In a statement that it would only allow to be attributed to an unnamed “spokesperson,” SeaWorld told Orlando Rising that the decision was made solely by the company’s leadership, and denied that it was motivated in any way by animal rights activists.

As illustrated by PETA’s statement, the theme park chain has long been engaged in a public relations battle with animal rights groups over its use of captive animals. PETA has organized boycotts and protests against SeaWorld Orlando in recent years, and the park has struck back by questioning PETA’s motives. 

When British Airways announced in August 2019 that it would no longer sell tickets to attractions that feature captive animals, then-SeaWorld CEO Gus Antorcha said groups like PETA “mislead and manipulate the truth to the detriment of our planet’s critically endangered animals.” 

“Pressuring companies and trying to shame them into cutting ties with independently accredited zoos and aquariums works against the vital research and conservation work to protect these animals,” Antorcha said at the time. 

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