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HUGE: First State Outlaws Orca Breeding And Performances

It's really happening!

In a significant blow to SeaWorld, California outlawed both captive orca breeding and the use of orcas in entertainment on Tuesday.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation, ending a years-long effort that began when State Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) first introduced the bill in 2014. It was reintroduced this spring after SeaWorld announced it would be ending its captive breeding program and repackaging its orca shows at SeaWorld San Diego into a more naturalistic performance.

Though the bill mirrors SeaWorld's voluntary efforts to address significant public opposition to its breeding and entertainment programs, it ensures that SeaWorld San Diego would not be able to resume its breeding program in the future - and that no new marine parks would be able to take its place. SeaWorld keeps its largest collection of captive orcas at its San Diego park, which was the center for many of its breeding efforts.

The bill prohibits the collection of orca genetic material for the purpose of breeding, and restricts the exportation and sale of orcas to other states and countries. The bill also requires that facilities keeping orcas captive use them only for scientific, educational or rescue purposes.

While SeaWorld likely would not be affected by the last provision, as it questionably bills its performances as "educational," the bill is significant as the first piece of state legislation specifically protecting orcas from use in entertainment.

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It was backed by the Animal Welfare Institute and members of the "Blackfish" team, including former orca trainer John Hargrove. "This feels WONDERFUL!" Hargrove wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

Tuesday's news was heralded by several animal welfare groups as a significant step forward for orca welfare; In Defense of Animals (IDA) described the legislation as an "historic achievement."

"This is a momentous decision that reflects established science on orca well-being, and also public opinion that increasingly demands that these majestic, highly intelligent beings should not be held captive," Dr. Toni Frohoff, a cetacean scientist with IDA, said.

"California's ban of the breeding and performance of captive orcas in the state is a huge victory for marine life," Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. oceans and wildlife campaign manager for World Animal Protection, noted. "This groundbreaking legislation, signed into law by Governor Brown, sends a powerful message to other states and the entire country that orcas belong in the wild, not in captivity for entertainment."

Of course, the new law is still just a cautious step forward - and SeaWorld seems to be satisfied with the legislation's loopholes. In a statement released when the bill was passed by the state assembly last month, SeaWorld reassured fans that it would still be able to carry on with its captive orca program.

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"Most of SeaWorld's orcas were born in human care and the environmental threats in our oceans, like oil spills and pollution, are huge dangers for these animals. The best, and safest, future for these whales is to let them live out their lives at SeaWorld in state-of-the-art habitats," the park said - and then hinted at future plans to grow its orca stable:

"Importantly, the bill does allow for SeaWorld to rescue and rehabilitate stranded orcas, with the goal of returning them to the wild, as is the case with all animals we rescue. And, if the federal government determines that the orca is not releasable, that animal could stay in SeaWorld's care."

But despite SeaWorld's assurances, the park's future is looking anything but bright.

Want to help establish a sanctuary where SeaWorld's orcas could one day retire? Make a donation to the Whale Sanctuary Project here.