A state legislator in California has proposed a new bill that would make it illegal to display or breed orcas in captivity. The proposal would cause major problems for SeaWorld San Diego as it faces more Blackfish backlash and is the only place in the state to have orcas in captivity.
The controversy comes after Blackfish, a documentary film picked up by CNN, was released last year detailing the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in Sea World’s Orlando, FL park. Richard Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica was joined by Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, an animal rights activist, and two trainers who were previously employed by SeaWorld San Diego.
Bloom proposed that it is time to retire the way Sea World and other parks have been using whales for entertainment. He described the bill as “landmark legislation calling for comprehensive improvement for orca protection laws in California.” While no current laws prohibit the capture of orca whales, there are laws at a federal level governing the way orcas are treated and cared for in captivity.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a republican who ran on a platform based on job growth, blasted the new proposal and its effect on SeaWorld San Diego. “SeaWorld is a critical part of San Diego’s economy. In addition to drawing thousands of tourists to San Diego each year, it is also a leader in maritime and wildlife conservation,” he said.
In a statement released shortly after news of the proposal and SeaWorld San Diego facing more Blackfish backlash on Friday, the park refuted the bill, calling it “severely flawed on multiple levels,” and lacking validity “under the U.S. and California constitutions.” SeaWorld San Diego employs up to 4,500 people in its peak season and about 2,500 in its off-season. The park is known to attract over four million visitors a year, and pays the city over $14 million in rent annually.
The bill Bloom proposes would ban orcas being bred in captivity, as well as being held for display or entertainment purposes. While SeaWorld San Diego has rides and other animal exhibits, the park considers the orcas the main draw for visitors. SeaWorld also has parks in San Antonio, TX and Orlando, FL, but the San Diego park is the only one that would be immediately affected by the bill.
Backlash at SeaWorld parks has slowly been growing with strong word of mouth about Blackfish. The Magnolia Films produced documentary details the death of trainer Brancheau caused by one of the attractions orcas. The film includes commentary by former SeaWorld trainers, and alleges that the orca became mentally unstable after being held in captivity for so long.
David W. Perle, a spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the bill has the ability to end the “deep injustice of exhibitions of captive marine life.” PETA has given its seal of approval to the proposed legislation.
Others in the industry are not sold on the bill. Grey Stafford, a trainer at Arizona’s Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium says the bill “collapses under its own weight of inconsistencies, particularly with respect to animal welfare and future breeding.” It is likely that SeaWorld San Diego could face more Blackfish backlash in the coming months as a result of the bill and its proponents.
By Nathan Rohenkohl