The Battle to Ban Whale and Dolphin Captivity Comes to Washington

In good news for captive whales and dolphins, yet another state is taking action to make sure these social, intelligent, far-ranging creatures aren’t confined and exploited for our entertainment.

At the end of January, Washington Senators Kevin Ranker and Christine Rolfes introduced legislation that would make it illegal to keep both wild-caught and captive-bred whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity for entertainment.

The bill, SB 5666, would also ban imports into the state and captive breeding, in addition to making violations punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to six months in prison. There are exemptions for facilities that do rehabilitation and research, but the bill still requires that animals be returned to the wild, and that those animals who are not releasable be kept in sea pens.

The state doesn’t currently have any cetaceans in captivity, but it does have a long and sordid history involving orca captures in the past that are believed to be responsible for decimating the population of southern resident killer whales, whose numbers still have not fully recovered.

One of those orcas who was taken from Washington waters is Lolita, who has spent more than four decades at the Miami Seaquarium after being torn from her family.

While her advocates are working to see her returned home to her family off the coast, lawmakers in the state are stepping up to make sure no more cetaceans suffer the way Lolita and others of her kind have, and hope to send a strong message that keeping cetaceans in tanks is no longer acceptable.

“There are no shortage of heartbreaking stories about the negative effects a life in captivity has on these highly intelligent creatures,” Ranker said in a statement. “Washington is fortunate to share its waters with orcas and many other species. There is no good reason to put these animals at risk through captivity.”

As the tide of public opinion continues to turn against using whales and dolphins for captivity, the industry continues to grasp at justifications for confining them and using them as performers. Despite its best efforts to convince the public captivity is a necessary evil, more and more places continue to turn against it and are instead looking for ways to protect marine mammals in their natural environments.

Last year, similar legislation was proposed in New York and in California. California’s bill called for a ban on orca captivity and retirement for state’s current residents to sea pens. California is home to approximately one-fifth of all captive orcas (there are now 57 in total), which makes it a prime place to enact a ban. A vote on that one is pending further study into the issue and the logistics of retirement.

As for Washington’s progress, the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee decided not to vote on the bill earlier this month, but this week Representative Brian Blake and David Sawyer introduced an identical version (HB 2115) in the House so the effort to protect cetaceans from captivity is far from over. You can show your support for banning whales and dolphins in captivity in Washington by commenting on the bill here.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Kathy Williams
Kathleen W3 years ago

I think the best possible way to avoid exploitation is to abolish any and all profit-motivated venues displaying wildlife. If they are truly concerned about the conservation of a species, they should concentrate their resources on rescuing and - whenever possible - rehabilitating injured and orphaned members. If individuals cannot be returned to their natural habitat, all efforts should be made to provide life-long care for that individual. This should include: a variety of their natural foods; an appropriate, species specific environment which simulates - to the greatest extent possible - their normal living conditions in the wild; and, whenever possible, the compatible companionship of a fellow, rescued member.

Margaret Z.
Margaret Z.3 years ago

I haven't gone to these shows in many years nor do I support them.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

"There are exemptions for facilities that do rehabilitation and research, but the bill still requires that animals be returned to the wild, and that those animals who are not releasable be kept in sea pens."

There's that magic word again - "research". Why does anyone need further "research". Good for Washington but it does not state when the animals would be returned.. Big loop hole. How many years of "research" or "rehab". Can that be turned into a cash cow?

California is "pending" because Seaworld put up such a big fight (and money) that the legislature backed down and tabled it for "review/"research". While the fight was going on it was amazing how many "we love our whales" commercials Seaworld had on tv. It was almost as bad as the BP BS that was on about the same time. Goes to prove, money talks and wins.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago


Marchal caroline
caroline marchal3 years ago


Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago


Val D.
Val D3 years ago

I've stopped attending these shows 8 years ago (I've only been to 4 total, anyway) and I talk about this issue with people to raise awareness. Since "Black Fish" came out, I'd say a lot of people are finally getting on board with boycotting these kind of water shows, which is a fabulous turn of events here in the USA.

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

I agree with Susie R. "Born free, should live free, should die free..."
petition signed

Hent catalina - maria

Thank you!