Animal advocates are applauding the introduction of a groundbreaking bill that seeks to ban orca captivity in California and retire the state’s current residents to sea pens.
The bill, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act (AB 2140), was introduced by California Assembly member Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), in response to the growing concerns about the inherent cruelty involved in confining an apex predator to a tank that were raised in the documentary Blackfish.
Since Blackfish made its debut, public awareness about the problems associated with keeping orcas in captivity has grown, and attitudes appear to be shifting in their favor, despite the industry’s continued rebuttals.
As Wired points out, unlike other states that have taken measures to ban cetaceans in captivity, California is home to approximately one-fifth of all captive orcas, which makes it a prime place to enact a ban. In this case, the proposed legislation doesn’t specifically call out Seaworld, but Seaworld San Diego is the only facility in the state that currently has orcas.
California’s bill has three main goals that include banning the use of orcas as performers in theme shows, ending captive breeding programs and ending 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. It would exempt any orcas who were injured or stranded and are being held as a part of a rescue and rehabilitation effort. Violations would be punished by $100,000 in fines, six months in jail, or both.
According to Bloom:
As a state we should lead the way in ending captivity for entertainment purposes and should be ensuring our current captive population general welfare needs are taken care of, and that we end any future captivity whether it be by capture or captive breeding programs here in California. Many scientists agree holding orcas captive have no conservation benefits for orcas in the wild and have only advanced captive breeding techniques with debatable success. If we truly want to help the orca we should focus our efforts on restoring habitat in the wild and protecting our oceans.
Bloom’s efforts were supported by Blackfish director Gabriella Cowperthwaite, Naomi Rose, Ph.D., a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute and and two former SeaWorld orca trainers, John Hargrove and Carol Ray.
“My experience studying orcas in the wild has led me to conclude that the welfare of these intelligent, wide-ranging, socially complex animals cannot be adequately protected when confined for a lifetime in small, shallow tanks,” said Dr. Rose in a statement. “Typical orca enclosures are less than one ten-thousandth of one percent the size of the species’ natural home range.”
Seaworld should probably be worried about the growing public backlash and potential ban, but dismissed the legislation in a statement and continues to defend keeping orcas captive, again calling itself and its employees “true animal advocates” who are governed by local, state and federal animal welfare laws. According to the L.A. Times, a few lawmakers are also tentatively opposing the bill because they believe it will hurt tourism.
However, many other aquariums and marine parks, including California’s own Monterey Aquarium, have proven they can successfully run and keep visitors coming without confining cetaceans or forcing them to perform ridiculous tricks to entertain the public.
If California passes this legislation, it wouldn’t just be a huge victory for the state’s captive orcas, but would also help set the stage to end keeping them in captivity elsewhere.
Please sign and share the petition urging California’s lawmakers to support and co-sponsor the Orca Welfare and Safety Act.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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