Sea World Orca

SeaWorld Sues California Commission Over Ban On Orca Breeding

SeaWorld filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the ban on the company from breeding captive killer whales at its San Diego theme park by the California Commission.

SeaWorld claims in its suit filed in San Diego County Superior Court that the California Coastal Commission was outside its authority when it made the ruling on breeding in October.

Previously, the commission approved a $100 million expansion of the “Blue World” tanks at SeaWorld used to hold orcas. But the commission also included a ban on breeding at the planned facility and prohibitions on the sale, trade, or transfer of the whales, which proved to be a huge setback to the park.

SeaWorld said in the lawsuit, “This last-minute ‘no breeding or transfer’ condition is unprecedented.”

It claims that the commission’s action is illegal because it has no jurisdiction over the orcas. The park’s attorneys argued the agency’s authority should have ended with the structure itself, and it should not have gone beyond that. They acknowledged the approval but added that the commission does so for all major building plans in coastal cities.

The lawsuit added, “The orcas are not, in any way, part of the coastal or marine environment. All of SeaWorld’s activities with respect to the care, breeding and transportation of orcas occur onshore in the orca pools and not in the marine environment and are specifically governed by federal law.”

Noaki Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Coastal Commission, said the agency could not comment on the particulars of the lawsuit, but the commission said in a statement that it “stands by its decision in October to protect killer whales.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the main group opposing the project, said in a statement Tuesday that the commission was within its rights and made the correct decision.

The group posted on its website regarding the October hearing, “PETA supporters, and hundreds of protesters, including actor Pamela Anderson, turned out at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center. During the hearing, PETA representatives recounted incidences of calves being torn from their mothers, forced pregnancies, and premature deaths. One orca was force-fed Valium to curb his aggression—which was triggered by his confinement.”

PETA said in a statement, “It’s clear that the company’s primary intention in pursuing the Blue World Project was to breed more orcas to confine to tanks.”

SeaWorld said in October that it would challenge the decision and that it had hired attorneys to examine it but did not give specifics before filing the lawsuit Tuesday.

PETA protests against orca tanks [Photo by Getty Images]
PETA protests against orca tanks [Photo by Getty Images]

Last month, the Orlando, Florida-based company said it would end orca shows at the San Diego park after visitors at the tourist attraction made it clear they prefer seeing killer whales act naturally rather than doing tricks. CEO Joel Manby told investors the park, where the iconic “Shamu” show featuring killer whales doing flips and other stunts debuted decades ago, will offer a different kind of orca experience focusing on the animal’s natural setting and behaviors, starting in 2017. The company has seen revenue drop since the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish that examined how orcas respond to captivity. It chronicles the case of Tilikum, a killer whale that caused the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 by pulling her into a pool at SeaWorld Orlando.

The shows will continue at the company’s Orlando and San Antonio parks, which are not affected by the breeding ban.

[Image via Flickr]