A California lawmaker announced a bill Friday that, if approved, would change orca protection laws and end killer whale performances at SeaWorld San Diego.
Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D) proposed the legislation at an event in Santa Monica.
The Orca Welfare and Safety Act (AB-2140) would allow orcas to stay at SeaWorld, but only for research and rehabilitation; the whale would no longer be allowed to perform.
Human interaction with the animals would be limited for trainers’ safety.
Also included in the bill are measures to prevent captive breeding and prohibit orcas from being imported and exported in California.
“There's simply no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes,” said Bloom. “These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete pools for their entire lives.”
The proposed legislation stops short of demanding sea parks release orcas back into the wild because experts say they wouldn't survive after living in captivity.
SeaWorld San Diego fired back at the proposal, stating in part, “This legislation appears to reflect the same sort of out-of-the-mainstream thinking. SeaWorld, one of the world’s most respected zoological institutions, already operates under multiple federal, state and local animal welfare laws.” (Read the full statement below)
Former SeaWorld orca trainers John Hargrove, Carol Ray and “Blackfish” documentary director Gabriela Cowperthwaite joined Bloom at his announcement.
Hargrove said he’d been told by his superiors not to speak out about his feelings on whale captivity because he was going to hurt the whales.
“It definitely plays with your emotions because you love those whales so much -- you don't want to hurt them,” said Hargrove.
However, another former SeaWorld whale trainer, Kyle Kittleson, does not share Hargrove’s view.
He told NBC 7 that he believes 85 percent of the facts in the “Blackfish” are untrue and that proposing legislation based on an inaccurate film is a bad idea.
“I don’t think it can pass because it sets a dangerous precedent on how we care for our animals in our country. And if we are unable to care for killer whales, then who’s to say that won’t extend to other species of animals.”
Opinion among San Diego’s state representatives is split.
Assemblyman Brian Jones (R) said he is strongly against the proposed legislation, saying public policy shouldn’t be driven by “special interests with an ax to grind about any human/animal interaction that they don’t approve of.”
Joining Jones is Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R), who says he cannot support legislation that will cost the San Diego area jobs and tourism. However, he said businesses that involve animals should continue to look for new ways to improve their quality of life.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D) said she would support the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, but her thoughts focused more on workplace issues.
Finally, Majority Leader Toni Atkins (D) stated she will carefully consider all the issues and opinions surrounding the bill.
The “Blackfish” documentary examines the background of killer whale Tilikum, the whale that grabbed and drowned SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau after a show in February 2010.
SeaWorld has been met with a serious public relations problem following the broadcast of the documentary and the increase in discussion about the questions the movie raises on social media.
Several musicians have cancelled performances at the theme parks in response to “Blackfish.”
Two months ago, SeaWorld decided to address the controversy head-on by issuing a statement saying “it’s time to set the record straight.”
The news of a proposed legislation on the table prompted SeaWorld San Diego to issue a statement, panning the bill as a publicity stunt.
Read the whole statement below:
“The premise behind this proposed legislation is severely flawed on multiple levels, and its validity is highly questionable under the United States and California Constitutions. We trust that our leaders who are responsible for voting on this proposal will recognize the clear bias of those behind the bill.
The individuals that Assemblyman Bloom chose to associate with for today’s press conference are well-known extreme animal rights activists, many of whom regularly campaign against SeaWorld and other accredited marine mammal parks and institutions. Included in the group also are some of the same activists that partnered with PETA in bringing the meritless claim that animals in human care should be considered slaves under the 13th amendment of the US Constitution – a clear publicity stunt. This legislation reflects the same sort of out-of-the-mainstream thinking.
SeaWorld, one of the world’s most respected zoological institutions, already operates under multiple federal, state and local animal welfare laws. We are deeply committed to the health and well-being of all of our animals and killer whales are no exception.
SeaWorld is extremely proud of our company’s mission and we have every intention of continuing to provide the enriching educational and entertainment experience that has done so much in the last five decades to advance the appreciation for marine mammals around the world. Our passionate employees are the true animal advocates – the pioneering scientists, researchers, veterinarians, trainers, educators and animal experts dedicated to caring for the animals at SeaWorld and also saving thousands in the wild that are injured, ill or orphaned.
We are one of the most well-established and respected members of the business community and for 50 years have worked closely with the state of California to build our local economy, attract millions of visitors each year, create thousands of jobs, and care for local wildlife who need our help.”