“Ocean Kingdom is the first phase of transforming the last of the undeveloped Pearl River Delta islands into what Mr. Su describes as the “Orlando of China” which “will become the new benchmark for the theme park industry.” The Chimelong Group.
The short answer is yes, they can send the orcas to a foreign country. It is a viable option, and there are no regulations to prevent it.
The recent shake-ups at SeaWorld show that this corporate business means business – they are replacing the CEO, restructuring the company’s Board of Directors, and in a Grinchy move they laid off over 300 employees in the middle of the holidays. They added some impressive independent consultants with marketing and business backgrounds to take the reins and reboot SeaWorld’s tired business model.
They are showing themselves to be competent, brilliant, and somewhat ruthless in their makeover – but what it means for the animals, and what anyone can do about it is a big question.
Unfortunately for the iconic orcas, SeaWorld doesn’t have a lot of options. They can continue as they have for the past 50 years and hope that they can drown out the animal rights community by launching a savvy advertising campaign (doomed to fail given the power of social networks), they can follow through on their present expansion plans to increase pool size (doomed to fail given given that it doesn’t address the fundamental needs of the whales), they can open their doors to scientists and researchers from around the world, while exploring alternatives such as sea pens (the best option, it will bring in money and restore public opinion, but expensive initially), or they can decide to keep a few orcas and sell/loan the rest overseas to China and other countries (quick, dirty, and cheap).
The former CEO will now serve on the board as adviser on conservation and on their plans for “international expansion”:
[The] current CEO and President, Jim Atchison, will become Vice Chairman of the Board.
In addition, Mr. Atchison will serve as a consultant to the Company with respect to international expansion and the Company’s conservation initiatives. The Company will also nominate Mr. Atchison to serve as the chairman of the board of the not-for-profit, independent SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. (See press release).
China’s new “Orlando Project” lends credence to the rumors that have been circulating that is helping China to develop theme parks along the lines of what no longer works in the US. According to Macao Magazine:
The Orlando project represents a major gamble for Chimelong, the private company based in Guangzhou, which is building the resort. Founded in 1989, the company has invested in environmental tourism, hotels and holiday resorts, with its major project a safari park, circus and tourist centre in Panyu, a southern district of Guangzhou.
Orlando, in central Florida, is the model for the Hengqin development. The city has turned sugar cane fields and citrus plantations into one of the most visited cities in the United States. This is because of Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World, which is 34 kilometres to the south. In addition, it hosts the second largest convention complex in the country.
Chimelong wants to follow the example of Orlando. It has hired major U.S. design firms PGAV and WATG for two major parts of the project, the Ocean World and the Ocean Hotel. Based in Honolulu, Hawaii, WATG has designed hotels and resorts in more than 100 countries across the world.
SeaWorld has already moved four orcas to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, where they produced two calves. SeaWorld, while claiming that they do not take orcas from the wild has also absorbed the wild caught orca Morgan into their stables there.
The Spanish trainer Alexis Martinez was killed at Loro Parque a few months before Dawn Brancheau was killed in SeaWorld Orlando, and now one of the Loro Parque trainers, Julien Forestier, is head trainer for Chimelong, the “Orlando of China” project:
Manager of Animal Training Guangzhou Chimelong Group Zhuhai Project April 2012 – Present (2 years 9 months)Hengqin Island, China Previously:
Senior Animal Trainer Loro Parque July 2010 – March 2012 (1 year 9 months)Tenerife, Canary Islands
Supervisor of Animal Training Dolfinarium February 2001 – June 2010 (9 years 5 months)Harderwijk, Netherlands
Marine Mammal Trainer Connyland February 2000 – November 2000 (10 months)Lipperswil, Switzerland
Also from Orlando, Florida and working for the Orlando in China project is Alan Stein, Executive Producer, Entertainment at Guangzhou Chimelong Group Zhuhai Project, previously at Busch Gardens Entertainment Corporation.
In a park that wants to be the biggest marine themed amusement facility in the world, the lack of orca superstars has left Chimelong missing the jewels in their crown. Because orcas are somewhat protected in the wild through international agreement it is hard to get them, although the Russians obtained permits to capture two (2) to be imported to China.
Erich Hoyt, co-director of the Far East Russia Orca Project and research fellow with Whale and Dolphin Conservation, says his group discovered the orcas came from Nakhodka, near Vladivostok, and were captured as part of two operations targeting killer whales in August and October last year, in the Okhotsk Sea.On December 21,  Hoyt says, his group learnt the two orcas had been transported to China via Vladivostok.
Sources told them the whales were bound for Ocean Kingdom, he adds. If that is the case, they are likely to become the first killer whales to go on show in the mainland of China.
But two orcas (there are now rumored to be three who may wind up there) is hardly enough for a country that hopes to have the most, the biggest, the most entertaining marine parks in the world, and with wild captures difficult to come by the orcas now “owned” by SeaWorld (before 1994 the whales could not be owned by theme parks, but after lobbying Congress the amusement parks changed this) would be welcome to their pools.
SeaWorld, for their part, would finally be able to infuse the inbred population of killer whales with wild genes from the orcas caught by Russia…