Though California is a long way from Florida, SeaWorld Orlando had a lot hinging on the fate of the SeaWorld San Diego's Blue World project. Announced over a year ago, this new initiative aimed to bring massive new killer whale tanks and viewing areas to SeaWorld parks across the country. Though SeaWorld Orlando had an event announcing the project and even promoted Blue World to local media, it was later revealed that Orlando's tank expansion would not go forward until a “pilot” Blue World was completed at SeaWorld San Diego. And that’s where the problems began.
While construction was originally supposed to start this year, SeaWorld San Diego got held up in what became an unexpectedly lengthily permitting process with the local government in California. Still, after much deliberation, the Blue World construction project was approved on October 8, 2015. However, the approval came with some serious caveats.
Chief among the conditions under which the permit was given is a ban on all whale breeding, which was a huge part of SeaWorld’s killer whale program. The permit approval also stipulated that SeaWorld was not allowed to transfer whales in or out of SeaWorld San Diego even to or from other SeaWorld parks. So, essentially, SeaWorld San Diego is now allowed to build an expanded tank for the 11 whales that it currently keeps in captivity, but none beyond that. And once those 11 whales pass away, they’ll be left with empty tanks that just so happened to have cost them $100 million.
Now you might be wondering how this setback might affect SeaWorld Orlando. And the answer is fairly complicated. SeaWorld spokespeople have not offered any definitive answers in regards to the status of the Blue World project in San Diego, simply saying that in light of this recent development they would be “exploring their options”. However, without further litigation from SeaWorld, there’s just no way that the company (which is experiencing serious financial issues as it is) will build a $100 million tank for 11 whales in San Diego that will be useless in only a few decades. That would be like Walt Disney World putting an expiration date on Star Wars Land. It’s just not going to happen.
Which brings us back to Florida. Though we’ve long predicted that Blue World would never see fruition at SeaWorld Orlando, the imminent cancellation of the Blue World project at SeaWorld San Diego (pending further legal action) means that any chance this project did have of coming to Orlando just evaporated. Even if SeaWorld decided to forget the pilot Blue World project at SeaWorld San Diego, they would likely see similar permit holdups in Florida if they tried to pursue Blue World in Orlando.
So that begs the question, with the possibility of building their next great animal attraction almost completely eradicated, where can SeaWorld go from here? Surprisingly, they do have some options…