SeaWorld has committed $1.5 million over three years to a project studying killer whales in the wild, the theme park company announced this week.

“The Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program will fund projects to help study and protect killer whales in the wild,” SeaWorld said.

Based on the images collected at SeaWorld, drone images of wild killer whales are analyzed to monitor the wild population’s nutritional and reproductive states. Image via Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center

The KWRCP will focus on increasing prey availability, improving habitat quality and strengthening management through “crucial research,” said a news release.

“The program will focus on providing support to aid in the recovery of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.”

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is partnering with SeaWorld and will seek to match its monetary pledge with public and private donations.

Reaction was swift and scoffing by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

“SeaWorld doesn’t get points for this most recent desperate PR move made because of tumbling attendance,” PETA told Times of San Diego.

“This is a corporation that’s responsible for helping decimate wild orca populations by capturing animals for its amusement parks, separating young orcas from their mothers, and forcing these far-ranging social animals to swim in endless circles in barren concrete tanks.”

PETA said its donation doesn’t make up for “SeaWorld’s history of abuse or the cruelty that it inflicts on marine animals every day.”

The statement concluded:

SeaWorld could choose to help these animals in a genuine way by moving them to seaside sanctuaries and serving exclusively as a rescue and rehabilitation facility — it obviously has the resources to do so.

In an email to SeaWorld supporters, the Florida-based company said:

“These contributions build on the killer whale research conducted by SeaWorld’s scientists, including multiple killer whale projects already underway through funding provided by the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.”

It added:

Currently funded projects include breakthrough nutritional assessment of Northern Resident killer whales using unmanned aerial drone technology; research on SeaWorld’s killer whales’ milk composition that will help scientists understand the nutritional requirements for mothers and calves; and research into pregnancy and lactation that will help scientists understand how killer whales metabolize toxins.

On Tuesday, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation put out its own statement on the partnership.

“Killer whales are amazing animals and as a species at the top of the food chain, they play a key role in the health of the ocean ecosystem,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF.

“We are excited to be a partner with SeaWorld, a company with a long-term commitment to conservation efforts, in this critical effort to help restore the populations of killer whales found in the Pacific Northwest.”

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