A California lawmaker has proposed a bill that would ban SeaWorld San Diego’s use of orcas in its shows. Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a democrat representing Santa Monica, said he was inspired to sponsor the bill after seeing the documentary, Blackfish, which details the 2010 death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer, Dawn Brancheau. If passed, the orcas, or killer whales as they are commonly called, would be released into large, outdoor pens.
The bill would ban the use of orcas for entertainment purposes and prohibits captive breeding. It was released Friday and met with strong opposition in San Diego. SeaWorld questioned the validity of the legislation, while others were concerned with the economic ramifications of a law banning the use of orcas in SeaWorld shows.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said that SeaWorld is a major part of the city’s economy. “In addition to drawing thousands of tourists,” he said, “it is also a leader in maritime and wildlife conservation.” The republican mayor ran his recent campaign on the promise of job growth and he believes there are more pressing matters in the state than SeaWorld San Diego.
Assemblyman Rocky Chavez also opposed the bill. Chavez, a republican representing Oceanside, said that he could not support any bill that takes away from the identity of the San Diego area, which would affect tourism and eventually strip the region of jobs. SeaWorld San Diego is host to 4.4 million visitors a year, more than the San Diego Zoo, and employs 2,500 people, a number that jumps up to 4,500 in the summer season.
In an editorial, the U-T San Diego called the bill ridiculous and, in response to Bloom saying that orcas are too large and too intelligent to stay cooped up in small pens for their whole lives, the paper points out that the legislation would not free any whales. The editorial goes on to state that the trainers at SeaWorld are already forbidden to get in the water with orcas by court order, which led them to ask, “What problem would this ridiculous bill fix?”
But in an article in the same U-T San Diego paper, Dan McSwain wrote that the days of orcas performing at SeaWorld are numbered. SeaWorld competes with other parks by offering numerous exhibits of other sea animals, a children’s play area, and a roller coaster. McSwain argues that public opinion is moving in the direction of treating animals, especially those with higher intelligence, in a more humane manner. Maybe it is time for SeaWorld to evolve into an eco-resort and continue to teach children about maritime wildlife, McSwain says.
A bill that bans SeaWorld from using orcas for entertainment purposes is unsurprisingly supported by PETA and the director of Blackfish. But there is some support coming out of the San Diego area. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, a democrat representing the 80th district in southern San Diego, is supporting the bill despite the potential economic fallout. And to a lesser extent, Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, another democrat representing the 78th district in San Diego, said that she has not seen the bill yet but will consider both the economic consequences and Bloom’s position on the issue.
By David Tulis