It's been the centerpiece of a day spent at SeaWorld San Diego for more than four decades: the so-called killer-whale show.
After Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer, was killed by an orca at SeaWorld Orlando, and following increased opposition from animal-rights activists, including a critical documentary called Blackfish, an L.A.-area state legislator is trying to put the park's signature “Shamu” shows out of business.
Santa Monica-based Assemblyman Richard Bloom today introduced legislation that would …
… make it illegal to hold orca whales in captivity for the purpose of entertainment. People also would be prohibited from capturing them, breeding them or trading them.
It's a bill squarely aimed at SeaWorld San Diego, virtually the only place in California where such actions take place. According to a fact sheet released by Bloom's office:
Our captive orcas' only culture is performance-based culture. Killer whales are capable of traveling 100 miles per day and are found in all the world's oceans yet are allowed to be held in small concrete tanks.
As a state we should lead the way in ending captivity for entertainment purposes and should be ensuring our current captive population's general welfare needs are taken care of, and that we end any future captivity whether it be by capture or captive breeding programs here in California
A spokesman for the assemblyman told us his office hasn't heard from SeaWorld today about the bill. We reached out to the park for its response but had yet to hear back.
The law would create penalties of $100,000 and/or six months behind bars for violating its provisions.
PETA today hailed the proposal:
In the 21st century, it's time to recognize that the orcas and dolphins held captive at SeaWorld do not belong there at all. Their containment in pitiful swimming pools instead of great oceans and in isolation instead of pods condemns our own race's greed and obliviousness. At SeaWorld and other animal abusement parks, these once-magnificent beings are separated from their families – including babies who are torn from their mothers' sides – and can swim only in endless circles between concrete walls, the constant stress of confinement driving them to lash out violently in frustration at each other and their human captors. PETA and kind people around the world have called on SeaWorld to retire these deprived orcas to a seaside sanctuary, but the park continues to defend its overt cruelty. This bill has the potential to end the deep injustice of exhibitions of captive marine life.
[Update at 4:30 p.m.]: SeaWorld sent us this statement:
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.