SeaWorld Cancels Plans To Increase Tank Size For Orcas

SeaWorld announced on Tuesday that it is dropping plans for Blue World, a habitat design which would double the water capacity of space currently holding the orcas.

SeaWorld’s Blue World program began with an application for a permit to increase the size of the tanks for captive killer whales. The Coastal Commission said it would approve the expansion, but only on the condition that SeaWorld agrees to stop breeding orcas.

SeaWorld countered by filing a lawsuit against the Coastal Commission last year, arguing that the commission was “overreaching” its duties by policing activity on the behalf of animal welfare.

However, due primarily to plummeting stocks and pressure from public outrage incited by the film, Blackfish, SeaWorld made the decision this year to end its whale breeding program.

The bargain for more baby whales in exchange for more space for the captive orcas was rendered moot.

On Monday, according to CourtHouse News, SeaWorld announced to the commission that it was withdrawing the permit application for the Blue World orca habitat.

SeaWorld attorney David Watson wrote in his letter to the commission that the lawsuit was being withdrawn.

“Closing the Blue World application file at this time means SeaWorld’s legal challenge to the proposed project conditions is no longer warranted. SeaWorld counsel soon will contact Coastal Commission counsel to discuss dismissal of the pending litigation.”

SeaWorld announced on its blog Tuesday that the orcas such as Tilikum and others will live out their lives in the current tanks they live in now.

“Since this is the last generation of orcas in our parks, we are focused on enhancing their existing habitats rather than expanding them. Our habitats are among the largest in the world, and we will invest and implement the learnings from the Blue World project to enrich our existing orca habitats and viewing areas – making them more dynamic and engaging for the whales, plus transforming them into a more naturalistic setting to match our new orca encounters.”

The announcement has led to a whole new uprising of protest amid animal welfare groups who were hoping for a larger sanctuary for the whales.

Outcry for the release of the whales again reached a fever pitch. Advocates are citing the release of Keiko, the Free Willy whale; and now Sampal, a dolphin in South Korea is making waves for sea pens.

Sampal is a female dolphin who was captured by accident in a fishing net when she was around 10-years-old. She was sold illegally to Pacific Land Aquarium, where she was kept for three years and taught to perform tricks, according to TakePart.

In 2013, her release was ordered by the Korean High Court. Sampal was kept with two of her buddies in a sea pen for rehabilitation. Release of the dolphins was being facilitated by Korean Animal Welfare Association, Ewha University and the Cetacean Research Center.

But Sampal found a hole torn in the sea pen and freed herself. She hung around for a little while but then decided to make a break for the open ocean. Her caretakers were concerned that she wasn’t ready, but she was spotted five days later about 60 miles away, swimming with a group of dolphins that were identified as her original pod.

On April 20 of this year, International Marine Mammal Project announced that Sampal was identified again with her family group in recent days, this time with a calf swimming by her side.

SeaWorld could argue that there is a big difference between a captive-bred whale being freed and a dolphin who has lived a decade in the ocean before capture. But the stories of Sampal and Keiko suggest that the idea of a sea sanctuary is worth consideration.

[Image via Andrea Izzotti/]