In another blow to SeaWorld, the state of California has ruled that they will no longer be able to breed their captive orcas. In a ruling made by the California Coastal Commission, they granted approval for a $100 million (£65 million) expansion to the orca tanks at SeaWorld San Diego, which will double the size of the animals’ current enclosure, but made this on the key condition that they cease all breeding of the whales.
The decision came after over 600 people gathered both in support and against SeaWorld at a hearing in Long Beach, California, with both sides giving impassioned speeches, according to a report from CNN. While the breeding of orcas in captivity will still be legal in the other 49 states of America, the ruling will prohibit the sale, trade, or transfer of all captive whales. This now means that the 11 orcas currently kept at SeaWorld San Diego will be the last in California.
SeaWorld San Diego plan to expand their orca exhibit, but will no longer be allowed to breed the whales. Daleen Loest/Shutterstock
The move has obviously been praised and celebrated by animal rights groups. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) spokesperson Ben Williamson said: “SeaWorld has admitted that it intended to breed even more orcas to fill the new tanks, but the commission's action today ensures that no more orcas will be condemned to a nonlife of loneliness, deprivation and misery. SeaWorld is a sea circus, and the orcas are its abused elephants.”
They are also calling on SeaWorld to stop building new tanks and to send the remaining whales to coastal sanctuaries so that they can “have some semblance of a natural life.” Opposition to the chain of marine mammal parks has been building since the documentary Blackfish hit the screens in 2013, which detailed the controversy surrounding the captivity of orcas in tanks. It particularly focused on the whale Tilikum, and the psychological and physical damage done to the whale from being in captivity.
Supporters of SeaWorld argue that by keeping the orcas in captivity, they are able to reach and teach large audiences about the importance of conservation and preservation of their wild counterparts. They state that the new enclosure being built for the whales, called the “Blue World,” will create a better life for the whales, of which breeding should be an integral part. “Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal’s life and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane,” said SeaWorld.
The backlash from the award-winning documentary has already been felt hard by SeaWorld, with attendance to the park having slumped and profits taking a dive. It seems that the days for keeping orca whales in captivity, at least in California, are now numbered.