A decision on whether to allow SeaWorld San Diego to build larger tanks for orca whales has been stalled by an outpouring of negative response to the proposal.
The California Coastal Commission has delayed a vote on whether to allow the San Diego park to build the larger tanks after receiving 75,000 letters and emails, mostly opposing the plan.
A vote on the project was delayed until October, so that the staff has “more time to ensure that all viewpoints and relevant information are addressed,” a commission spokeswoman told The Los Angeles Times.
Opponents feel the larger killer whale environments mask the larger issue: orcas in captivity.
In response, SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz said in a statement that veterinarians and other experts have "acknowledged that Blue World is a continuing evolution of the park’s killer whale habitat that enhances enrichment for the whales and allows for a broad range of behaviors. It will also provide for greater research opportunities, and inspires and educates visitors by increasing their understanding of these incredible animals. "
“The proposed Blue World project will provide not only an expanded habitat for whales, but also new opportunities for researchers to conduct studies that will benefit killer whales and other cetaceans in the wild,” said Dr. Paul J. Ponganis, research physiologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. “In addition, a dynamic animal environment like Blue World may inspire a host of future marine biologists, veterinarians and other scientists.”
The opposition to the project appears to be led by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has posted a letter on its site that people can sign and send to the commission.
“This project is window-dressing intended to mislead the public into thinking that the orcas are no longer suffering,” PETA’s website statement reads.
SeaWorld announced last year that it plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build an expanded killer whale environment and programs called the Blue World project.
The tanks will have a planned total water volume of 10 million gallons, nearly twice as much as the existing facility. They will have a maximum depth of 50 feet and span more than 350 feet in length.
The new environment will also provide the world's largest underwater viewing experience for guests, as well as a home for the 11 orcas at the park.
The park has battled negative publicity since the release of “Blackfish,” a documentary critical of orca whales in captivity.