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So-Called Blackfish Bill Could Devastate SeaWorld

A bill proposed by a Santa Monica-based state assemblyman could eventually rid SeaWorld of its mascot.

This post has been updated.

SeaWorld’s Shamus could be facing extinction if one state lawmaker has his way.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Democrat who represents Malibu and Santa Monica, proposed a bill late this week that would not only bar shows featuring killer whales and captive breeding programs but also have a chilling effect on SeaWorld’s longtime business model.

It essentially puts an expiration date on SeaWorld’s display of killer whales, an approach largely motivated by “Blackfish,” a critical 2013 documentary that panned SeaWorld’s practices. The movie’s director, as well as three opponents of SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales interviewed in the film, appeared with Bloom at a Friday press conference announcing the bill.

SeaWorld San Diego currently has 10 killer whales, most of which were born in captivity through the park’s breeding program.

Halting that program would mean that once the San Diego park’s orcas die, SeaWorld will be unlikely to get new ones.

SeaWorld has publicly distanced itself from past captures  of wild killer whales – a practice that would become illegal under Bloom’s proposed legislation – so an end to its artificial insemination programs would be devastating. (Examples of past captures and transfers of killer whales between SeaWorld’s three parks were central to the movie’s claim that the marine parks abuse the animals, separating them from their mothers and their natural pods.)

There’s just one exception.

If animal handlers rehabilitate a killer whale after a rescue or conduct research and decide the orca wouldn’t survive in the wild, they could hold an orca in “a sea pen that is open to the public and not used for performance or entertainment purposes.”

Again, most of SeaWorld’s killer whales were born to other SeaWorld killer whales, so the rule change could ravage the San Diego park’s longtime tourist draw – unless it can make the case that it’s not using those whales for entertainment purposes.

SeaWorld’s orcas range from as young as a year and as old as 45, according to documentation released by Bloom’s office.

SeaWorld’s continued focus on its killer whales as the cornerstone of its parks – and perhaps its economic livelihood – could depend on how long those whales survive.

Bloom argues this is the best way to prevent mistreatment of animals.

“These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives,” he said in a Friday statement. “It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement.”

Here’s some information Bloom released about SeaWorld San Diego’s orcas:

Corky – Female, captured in Canada in 1969

Kasatka – Female, captured in Iceland in 1978

Ulises – Male, captured in Iceland in 1980

Orkid – Female, 25 years old, mother Kandu (deceased) – Orkid has no living offspring

Keet – Male, 21 years old, mother Kalina, the original Baby Shamu (deceased)

Shouka – Female, 21 years old, mother Sharkan (deceased)

Nakai – Male, 12 years old, mother Kasatka

Ikaika – Male, 11 years old, mother Katina (in Florida)

Kalia – Female, 9 years old, mother Kasatka

Makani – Male, 1 year old, mother Kasatka

SeaWorld confirmed the validity of those details on Friday.

The company accused the assemblyman of associating with “extreme animal rights activists” and dubbed the legislation legally questionable.

Here’s a snippet from the company’s statement:

“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 (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) 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.”

Whether Bloom’s bill has a shot at getting through both the state Assembly and state Senate, and past Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, isn’t so clear.

But the range of responses from San Diego’s Assembly delegation on Friday were revealing.

State Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins, a fellow Democrat whose district includes SeaWorld, said in a Friday statement she would “carefully consider all the issues and opinions surrounding this legislation” and noted SeaWorld’s economic and scientific contributions to the region.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, another San Diego Democrat, said late Thursday she would likely support the bill.

Only Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, who represents North County, came out sharply against Bloom’s bill.

“I cannot support legislation that will take away from our region’s unique identity and will undoubtedly cost us jobs and tourism,” Chávez said in a statement.

Fellow San Diego area Assembly members Brian Maienschein and Shirley Weber had yet to comment publicly early Friday afternoon.

This is part of our Quest: SeaWorld series digging into the park’s impact on our region. Check out the previous story – What SeaWorld Returns to the Wild – and the next in our series  How Much Shamu Means to SeaWorld.

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