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Animal rights advocates breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after the California Coastal Commission, which regulates land and water use along the state’s expansive coastline, approved a planning permit that would prohibit captive breeding at Sea World’s San Diego aquarium. According to the Guardian, this measure, which will go into effect in 2018, will also ban the sale, trade or transfer of SeaWorld’s current 11 orcas, ensuring that these will be the last 11 orcas that they hold in captivity there.

The new limits on captive orca breeding were added to SeaWorld’s expansion permits that the company proposed to start their “Blue World” project. This $100 million dollar project will also include expanding their current 1.7 million gallon tanks to much larger 5.2 million gallon tanks. While the California Coastal Commission gave SeaWorld the go-ahead to expand their current tanks, they must do so with the stipulation that they can no longer breed or add new orcas to their facility.

artisit rendition of new orca tanks

Artist’s rendition of proposed killer whale habitat for Sea World San Diego, as a part of the approved “Blue World Expansion Project”


“SeaWorld’s business is circling the drain as an enlightened public is objecting to the confinement of orcas in bleak bathtubs for the sake of entertainment,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The Animal Legal Defense Fund is pleased that the Commission has acknowledged that captive breeding and the use of orcas for public entertainment has no relationship to legitimate orca conservation. Science overwhelmingly shows that orcas neither thrive nor breed well in captivity. It is cruelty pure and simple to keep large, intelligent, complex and social sea mammals in tiny tanks and force them to entertain consumers whose dollars would be better spent on conservation of orcas in the wild. The Commission’s decision confirms that SeaWorld’s days of breeding and warehousing orcas for entertainment are numbered.”

While the debate between animal rights activists and those in favor of whale captivity rages on, the numbers speak for themselves. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation, 161 whales have died in captivity since the first whales were stolen from the wild back in 1961. This number does not include the 30 miscarried or stillborn babies born in the world’s 14 marine mammal parks. Killer whales have been reported to show many signs of distress while in captivity, including fighting, self-mutilation, suicide, infanticide and even killing their human trainers.

This ruling is a huge step for the orcas living in Sea World’s San Diego park, but it only applies to that particular aquarium.  To the 13 other orcas being held in Sea World parks in San Antonio, and Orlando, life, and captive breeding projects will go on as usual. It also does not apply to a poor lonely whale named Lolita, who, according to the ALDF, has been living in solitary confinement in the Miami Seaquarium for the last 40 years!

Hopefully, with films like Blackfish turning public attention to some of the horrors that these highly intelligent mammals endure in captivity, their days of abuse will be numbered as well.

Image source: Spencer Wright/Flickr

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