Proposal Seeks To End SeaWorld Orca Shows In California

This post has been updated below.

A California lawmaker will introduce a bill on Friday that would make orca shows illegal -- one that is specifically meant to affect the 10 captive orcas at SeaWorld San Diego, the only California facility that has whales. Called the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, the bill would make it illegal to "hold in captivity, or use, a wild-caught or captive-bred orca for performance or entertainment purposes."

Brought by state Assemblymember Richard Bloom, D–Santa Monica, the law would come with a fine of up to $100,000 and/or six months in a county jail for violators. Bloom called the measure "the most comprehensive protection law for captive orcas in the United States in over 40 years."

"There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes," Bloom said is a statement. "These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete pens for their entire lives. It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement."

Under Bloom's bill, SeaWorld's orcas would be "rehabilitated and returned to the wild where possible." If that is not possible, then they would be "transferred and held in a sea pen that is open to the public and not used for performance or entertainment purposes." The bill would also crack down on orca breeding, outlawing artificial insemination of captive orcas, and blocking the import of orcas or orca semen from other states.

One San Diego Assemblywoman has already commented on the legislation, saying that she will likely vote in its favor. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said in a Facebook post:

"SeaWorld's reputation of treating its workers poorly dates back to its opening 50 years ago. It's about time we continue this conversation about job quality and workplace safety at SeaWorld – whether it involves groundskeepers, concessions workers or killer whale trainers. Recent evidence suggests its record with orcas isn't much better. I'm looking forward to having an honest conversation about SeaWorld's business practices and how they can really be an icon that makes San Diego proud."

For the bill, Assemblymember Bloom reached out to "Blackfish" director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist who worked on the film.

"The Blackfish effect has never been in greater evidence-everything has led to this, the first serious legislative proposal to prohibit the captive display of this highly intelligent and social species," Rose told David Kirby of TakePart. "SeaWorld should join with this effort rather than continue to fight it. They can be on the right side of history."

Kirby also pointed out that using legislation to ban orca shows has been done before:

It is not the first time state lawmakers have tried to outlaw the captivity of killer whales, the world's largest dolphin. South Carolina passed a bill in 1992 against captivity for dolphins and porpoises following efforts by the South Carolina Humane Society to stop a proposed dolphin park in Myrtle Beach. Just last month, New York state Sen. Greg Ball, R-Carmel, introduced a bill to ban orca captivity in that state. Of course, there are no captive orcas in South Carolina or New York, making the California bill far more than a symbolic gesture. At least five countries-India, Croatia, Hungary, Chile, and Costa Rica-have also outlawed all cetacean captivity, while Switzerland has banned captivity for dolphins.

UPDATE: SeaWorld has issued a response to the proposed legislation, saying that the bill was brought by "extreme animal rights activists." The statement reads:

"In addition to being one of the most respected members of the business community, SeaWorld also is a global leader in the zoological and animal welfare world. We are deeply committed to the health and well-being of all of our animals and killer whales are no exception. Our passionate employees are the true animal advocates – the pioneering scientists, researchers, veterinarians, trainers, marine biologists, educators, aquarists, aviculturists and conservationists who for 50 years have cared for the animals at SeaWorld and also saved thousands in the wild that are injured, ill or orphaned. We engage in business practices that are responsible, sustainable and reflective of the balanced values all Americans share."

ACTION GUIDE: Zoos and Aquaria

Hundreds of millions of people visit zoos every year, despite increasing public anxiety about animals in captivity. If you want to make sure you're at least visiting a zoo that makes efforts to be humane, make sure it is on the list of U.S. facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums; internationally accredited facilities are listed here by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. If you want to see whether a facility has any recent USDA violations, you can search this database. You can report a zoo or aquarium to the USDA here. And if you want to become active against having animals in captivity, Peta and Born Free USA offer places to start.