Update 4/8/2014, 11 a.m. PDT: In a move that effectively kills the legislative effort for the year, the legislation aimed at ending SeaWorld's killer whale shows was sent to interim hearings. The author agreed to the committee chair's request when it became clear that the votes were not there to move the bill. The action spares legislators and SeaWorld the uncertainty that a simple defeat of the bill in committee would have brought since bills sent to interim cannot be reconsidered. Presumably, hearings will be held after the close of the legislative session that could shape the debate in 2015.
On Tuesday, the California State Assembly's Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife is expected to vote on AB 2140 -- the Orca Welfare and Safety Act. While the bill is likely to fail passage, it has become much more controversial than some anticipated, resulting in heated debate during committee testimony.
Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) announced AB 2140 in March alongside two former SeaWorld orca trainers and the director of the critically-acclaimed documentary, Blackfish. Along with being introduced by Bloom, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act was co-authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) and state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). If passed, the bill will amend the Fish and Game Code to make it so that it is:
"...unlawful to hold in captivity, or use, a wild-caught or captive-bred orca, as defined, for performance or entertainment purposes, as defined, to capture in state waters, or import from another state, any orca intended to be used for performance or entertainment purposes, to breed or impregnate an orca in captivity, or to export, collect, or import from another state the semen, other gametes, or embryos of an orca held in captivity for the purpose of artificial insemination, except as provided. The bill would make every person, corporation, or institution that violates those provisions guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $100,000 or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than 6 months, or by both the fine and imprisonment. By creating a new crime, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program."
Bloom said that there was no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes. If the bill becomes law, SeaWorld would release its orcas into an "ocean sanctuary," a large area of open ocean water where commercial whaling is banned.
The bill was inspired by the documentary, Blackfish, which focused on one specific killer whale involved in the deaths of 3 people and the negative consequences of keeping orcas in captivity. The documentary, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, sparked national outrage and debate over whether these mammals should continue to be kept in captivity for entertainment purposes.
In a statement released to IVN, SeaWorld called Blackfish a "propaganda film," and said that AB 2140 "is not based on science, and would place extreme restrictions on the care we provide our killer whales."
"The premise behind this proposed legislation is severely flawed on multiple levels. It assumes there is something wrong with the current approach to keeping killer whales in human care. Nothing could be further from the truth. SeaWorld has long been recognized as one of the most distinguished and respected zoological organizations in the world. Our trainers, animal care specialists and veterinarians are the real animal advocates."
The statement went on to say that the bill would have an adverse effect on the killer whales currently under the care of SeaWorld by jeopardizing their health and well-being, would place them in unnatural social groups, and would make it harder for scientists and researchers to "study whales in a safe zoological environment."
SeaWorld has sent a team of lobbyists to combat this bill, which quickly became the most controversial piece of legislation currently being considered by California lawmakers.
“There are strong feelings and compelling arguments on both sides of AB 2140," said Bill Wong, a spokesman for Assemblymember Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood). "Ultimately, the choice for legislators is whether these specific marine mammals are better suited in captivity or in the wild. I have met with both sides of the issue and I think the fate of this bill will be decided on the testimony that will be made in committee.”The topic has become so controversial and so sensitive, many lawmakers are hesitant to publicly talk about their personal positions on the matter. However, there were a couple of Assembly members who were willing to speak to IVN about why they oppose the bill.
"I am voting against the bill," Assemblymember Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) said. "Animals born and raised in human care cannot simply be released into the wild. They will not survive."
Opponents of the bill defend SeaWorld's record and the care and protection it provides these animals.
“SeaWorld provides a one-of-a-kind experience for children and adults to connect firsthand with animals in a way that most people would never otherwise enjoy,” said Assemblymember Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach). “Growing up in San Diego, my first personal experience with killer whales and dolphins was at SeaWorld with my family, which has lead me to develop a lifelong desire to protect these unique marine mammals and the ocean environment that they live in.”
If AB 2140 passes, California would be the first state to ban SeaWorld from using killer whales for entertainment purposes. The Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife is expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday, April 7, at 9 a.m. PDT.
Photo Source: www.orcahome.de