California Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a new bill that outlaws the breeding of killer whales in captivity, while also making it illegal for any individual or organization to force the animals to perform in shows for entertainment purposes.
The law is obviously directed at SeaWorld, which has come under fire since 2013, when the release of the documentary film Blackfish revealed the shocking conditions in which the park’s orcas are kept, and the psychological damage this has caused to the whales.
The new bill, entitled SB839, was first proposed by Democrat Richard Bloom back in April, and allows for fines of up to $100,000 to be placed on those who break the terms of the law. Under these terms, educational institutions retain the right to breed orcas for the purposes of research and rehabilitation, while organizations like SeaWorld will still be able to use killer whales in educational presentations.
In the fallout from the Blackfish revelations, SeaWorld announced in March of this year that it would be terminating its orca breeding program and shows, and this new law ensures that it cannot go back on that promise. The signing of the bill follows on from a decision made in 2015 by the California Coastal Commission to ban SeaWorld from using its newly-expanded tanks to breed whales.
In response, SeaWorld released a statement explaining that the legislation is in keeping with its own commitment of ensuring “no more orca breeding in California and to replace theatrical shows with education-based encounters.” The company, which still owns 24 orcas, says that because these whales have spent their entire lives in captivity, they would not be able to survive if released into the wild, and will therefore remain at the park where they will participate in these educational displays.
Set to begin at SeaWorld San Diego next year before expanding to the company’s other parks in 2019, the presentations are said to “reflect the natural world and will focus on the research, education, care and respect that align with our mission to advance the well-being and conservation of these beautiful creatures.”
SeaWorld also says that the new law does not prevent it from rescuing and rehabilitating stranded killer whales.