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SeaWorld’s Orca Shows Will Continue in California (For Now)

SeaWorld’s Orca Shows Will Continue in California (For Now)

California’s recent effort to ban orca shows at SeaWorld in San Diego met a disappointing outcome when it was put on hold this week, but the fight to end the exploitation of orcas in the state is far from over.

In March, assemblymember Richard Bloom introduced the Orca Welfare and Safety Act (AB 2140), in response to growing ethical concerns about keeping orcas in captivity that were brought to the public’s attention by the documentary Blackfish.

The bill would have banned the use of orcas as performers in theme shows, ended captive breeding programs and ended the import and export of orcas and their genetic material into and out of the state. It would also require that the state’s 10 captive orcas, who are currently at SeaWorld, be retired to sea pens if possible or kept on display only.

The bill received widespread support from animal advocacy organizations, Gabriella Cowperthwaite, the creator of Blackfish, former SeaWorld trainers and the public. On Monday, orca advocates presented the assembly with 1.2 million signatures in support of the bill during Orca Welfare Lobby Day in Sacramento.

Supporters continue to argue that it’s not just their sheer size that makes captivity inappropriate, but that the needs of these highly intelligent and socially complex apex predators can’t be met by the industry even with the best of intentions. Despite SeaWorld’s claims that its orcas are well cared for and that it’s providing the public with an educational opportunity, whale and dolphin advocates have documented a long history of abnormal behavior, captive breeding disasters, depression, aggression, poor dental health, injuries, the effects of stress and death from diseases they would never contract in the wild as a few of the problems that come with confining these animals in tanks.

While some lawmakers were ready to support the bill this week at a meeting of the assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, it was ultimately put on hold. Although it was a disappointing outcome for orca advocates, it’s promising that it wasn’t killed entirely and that the outcome will allow the bill to move forward without the prejudice of a vote.

Instead of voting, the committee moved to send it to interim study so the legislature can fully consider all the facts and give both sides more of an opportunity to weigh in. Bloom supported the move, saying 30 minutes of debate were not sufficient to determine the full impact of the bill.

“It’s unfortunate that much of the conversation has been fueled … by fear and invective and misinformation,” Bloom said during the hearing. “It’s clear that many committee members are simply unprepared to make a decision on the bill.”

The move will also give supporters time to work out logistical issues that raised concerns among committee members, such as the part about moving orcas to sea pens when it comes to a timeline for moving them, where they would be and who will ultimately be responsible for their care and the associated costs.

Dr. Naomi Rose, a Marine Mammal Scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute who sponsored the bill, stated:

“We are pleased to see that the committee will further review this issue and help ensure SeaWorld finally comes to the table. The science is clear―holding killer whales in captivity is harmful to the whales and to the trainers. The interim study mandated by the committee will provide further evidence of the need for this bill. We look forward to participating in this effort and excited to return next session to pass this bill into law.

She also told the AP she’s working with lawmakers in Texas and Florida, which are home to SeaWorld’s other parks, to introduce similar legislation.

As SeaWorld continues to defend its practices and dismiss the “Blackfish effect,” awareness and controversy surrounding the film continues to grow and it seems the public might just be turning away from parks on its own. Recent filings by SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. show a 13 percent decline in attendance for the first three months of the year to about 3.05 million visitors from 3.5 million for the same period last year, reports the LA Times.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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122 comments

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2:15PM PDT on Jul 5, 2014

Another whale of a tale: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/420/205/744/lolita-needs-us-again/

2:07PM PDT on Jul 5, 2014

If they won't free the Orcas, then stop giving them drugs to keep them calm.

9:13AM PDT on May 19, 2014

Guys, There is another thing we can do to help orcas. A female killer whale named Lolita has been held for about 43 years in the smallest orca tank in America. Organisations and individuals have been campaigning tirelessly for her release back to the waters of her birth, where her family is waiting for her. Of all the captured orcas in America, she is probably the one with the greatest chance of being able to survive in the wild on her own. Orcas have the closest familial bonds of any species (males have been shown to spend between 45% to 75% of their entire lives within a body length of their mother) and so there is a good chance that she can reintegrate with her family. Therefore, please sign the petition Care2 http://www.thepetitionsite.com/420/205/744/lolita-needs-us-again/
asking for her potential new owners to see sense and to let her go free. Freeing Lolita would do a lot to help other orcas as well in terms of keeping the pressure up on SeaWorld and marine circuses.

11:48PM PDT on Apr 27, 2014

So sad...

9:57PM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

"While some lawmakers were ready to support the bill this week at a meeting of the assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, it was ultimately put on hold." I have learned to distrust ANYTHING and ANYONE linked to a Wildlife committee, Parks department, etc. They all have their own private agendas which are fueled by corporate greed.

"Instead of voting, the committee moved to send it to interim study so the legislature can fully consider all the facts and give both sides more of an opportunity to weigh in." I would think that 1.2 million signatures would have been more than enough to support the ban but to say that more time is needed to study/detemine the impact - who are they trying to kid. The impact is 1) on the lives of the orcas being drugged for our entertainment living in misery in too small of tanks and 2) greed.

The answer should be simple.

11:32AM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

To add:

Anyone who thinks that SeaWorld does some good work may be interested in reading this article. http://www.indianvoices.net/san-diego-new/701-international-association-of-amusement-parks-attractions-iaapa-sea-world-s-captivity-kills

It states 'SeaWorld Entertainment claims $1.5 billion in annual revenue, yet has spent only $9 million on conservation in the past decade – or just 0.0006 of this corporation's net revenue going into research and conservation annually. For every $100 made by a Sea World park, less than 1 cent is put into research benefiting wildlife.'

One conclusion that could be drawn from this is that, rather than taking its responsibilities in conservation/animal welfare seriously, instead SeaWorld uses the 'conservation' tag as just another way of promoting itself, much like a 'buy one get one free' ticket - if one tactic doesn't reel in a customer, maybe the other one will. The idea that SeaWorld does any appreciable work vis a vis conservation is one that SeaWorld has created and perpetuated solely to sell more tickets to its marine circus. It is not a respected conservation organisation by any means. The 'conservation' tag is nothing but a ruse to separate an unsuspecting public from its money.

11:20AM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

to continue:

The National Marine Fisheries Service, in an official report, concurred: “The capture of killer whales [in Puget Sound, where Lolita comes from] for public display during the 1970s likely depressed their pop. size & altered the pop. characteristics sufficiently to severely affect their reproduction & persistence.” Essentially, SeaWorld is arguing that it should be allowed to have wild orcas because their research, such as it is, is ‘critical’ due to orcas being endangered - because they have been taken from the wild by SeaWorld. The definition of cynicism?

11:19AM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

Patricia D - SeaWorld is not all bad.

I only pick this comment out because SeaWorld works hard on its reputation for carrying out research and therefore people think that they are doing some good. To whit, SeaWorld stated, in their recent open letter (http://seaworld.com/en/ourcare/Letter?utm_source=Silverpop&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=SEA.SeaWorldCaresLetter.Consumer.Dec2013%20(3)&utm_content=DIGITAL) 'The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild.' According to the Oceanic Preservation Society, “SeaWorld has published very few scientific papers on the species and what it has contributed to our understanding of their biology was learned some time ago. SeaWorld contributes almost no information today that addresses the protection of wild orcas.”

SeaWorld also says 'Some populations of wild killer whales have been classified as endangered or threatened, demonstrating the potential critical nature of our research.' Orcas belonging to the Southern Resident orca population in the Pacific Northwest have been classified as endangered. Scientists believe that the captures of orcas (including an orca named Lolita, living in Miami, a member of this population) contributed to the problem. The National Marine Fisheries Service, in an official report, concurred: “The capture of killer whales [in Puget Sound, where Lolita comes from] for public display during the 1970s likely depressed their pop. size & altered the pop. characteristics

6:06AM PDT on Apr 15, 2014

People need to realize the injustice done to these animals/mammals. STOP BUYING TICKETS to see captive animals. That'll stop the business of animal abuse.

3:54PM PDT on Apr 14, 2014

I wouldn't mind if they had marine animals that can't be returned to the wild (like sea lions that have been blinded by shotguns- the Marine Mammal Center has found homes for several animals at seaquariums)- but it is wrong to keep orcas in such tiny tanks.

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