The project will facilitate the park's previously announced plan to transition from theatrical orca shows to educational presentations based on behavior in the wild, SeaWorld officials said in a statement.
“The new Orca Encounter takes killer whale presentations to a new level of education, allowing us to inform millions of park guests over the next several decades about the natural history, physical abilities and the conservation steps necessary to ensure the future survival of this species in the wild,'' said Marilyn Hannes, SeaWorld San Diego park president.
SeaWorld's plan to transition to education-based presentations was part of the broader announcement in March that the current generation of orcas at its parks will be the last.
Construction is scheduled to begin in January, with the Shamu set backdrop being dismantled. SeaWorld said Orca Encounter, featuring what park officials contend will be a more natural setting, is due to begin next summer.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and a group called Save Everyone's Access spoke out against the project.