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Tillikum, a killer whale at SeaWorld amusement park, performs during the show Believe, in Orlando
Reuters/Mathieu Belanger
Shamu is getting a little more room.
WILLY FREED?

An embattled SeaWorld is phasing out its killer whale show in San Diego

By Ashley Rodriguez

This post has been updated.

SeaWorld plans to end the long-running but increasingly controversial orca show at its San Diego amusement park next year.

“In 2017 we will launch an all new orca experience,” said SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby in a conference call with analysts. “It’s going to focus more on the natural setting, the natural environment and natural behaviors of the whale… That means that 2016 will be the last year of our theatrical killer whale experience in San Diego based on the customer feedback that we’re getting there.”

The show that made Shamu famous would be replaced with one with more of a ”conservation message inspiring people to act,” according to documents obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune, which first reported the news.

Manby said he believes the upcoming orca “experience” will resonate more with Californians. But that assessment is not universal across all SeaWorld properties, he added, suggesting that the killer whale show will remain at other parks.

The move comes after a backlash from animal rights activists and the general public shrank the company’s market value and spurred state and federal efforts to ban the captive breeding of orca whales.

The company posted quarterly results earlier this month that missed analyst expectations amid  concerns that negative publicity—which surged with the popularity of the critical documentary “Blackfish”—was hurting attendance at the company’s parks. SeaWorld attempted to bounce back with a proposed $100 million expansion of its San Diego park, but regulators refused to approve the project unless the company agreed to stop breeding orcas or bringing in new ones.

A California congressman also said last week he would introduce a federal bill to ban the breeding, capture, and import/export of orcas.