SeaWorld to open first park without killer whales

Posted at 9:43 AM, Dec 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-14 09:43:12-05

SeaWorld is building its first park outside the United States. And it won’t have any killer whales.

The company has struck a deal with Miral Asset Management to develop the park in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It should open its doors in 2022.

SeaWorld’s reputation took a hit in the wake of the release of the “BlackFish” documentary distributed by CNN. The film, which was released in 2013, highlighted the dangers of holding killer whales in captivity, focusing specifically on a SeaWorld orca that killed three people.

SeaWorld has disputed points raised by the film, but announced this year that it will phase out killer whale shows and stop holding the animals in captivity.

The park in Abu Dhabi will have a marine life research and rehabilitation center — a first for the UAE.

The latest addition to the company’s portfolio of parks will be located on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, home to an annual Formula One race, Ferrari World theme park, Yas Waterworld, and — from 2018 — a Warner Bros Theme Park.

“This announcement reflects the emirate’s ambition to create a sustainable, diversified economy, with tourism as one of its core pillars,” said Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of Miral, the government-backed company that manages Yas Island.

Oil rich Abu Dhabi has been looking at ways to diversify its economy and boost tourism numbers as part of a strategic plan looking ahead to 2030.

But it will have to compete with neighboring Dubai, which has its own ambitious plans to attract 20 million visitors a year by 2020.

Dubai is already home to the largest indoor theme park in the world, IMG Worlds of Adventure. And last week it announced plans to build an even bigger one.

It officially opens Dubai Parks and Resorts next week. That park — built at a cost of more than $3 billion dollars — includes LegoLand, a Bollywood-themed zone, and a water park.