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California bill proposes ban on SeaWorld's orca captivity in reaction to "Blackfish"

Updated on March 13, 2014
Trainer Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum before her death in 2010.
Trainer Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum before her death in 2010.

Last week, a California state legislator proposed to ban the captivity and entertainment of orca whales at the SeaWorld of San Diego. The bill, entitled The Orca Welfare and Safety Act, would also ban captive breeding and prohibit the import and export of orcas within the state.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom proposed the law in regards to the ethical care of the majestic animals, saying that orcas are too large and intelligent to be confined in small tanks for their entire lives.

Although seeing orcas up close provides such fun and entertainment – as I’ve enjoyed myself in the past – it is unethical as humans to remove calves from the wild, limit them to a small, chlorinated space, train them for entertainment, and separate them from their mothers in captivity, which is done quite often.

Bloom was moved by the CNN documentary “Blackfish”, which revisited the several deaths at the SeaWorld of Florida by a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum and the overall danger of orca captivity.

“It is time that we embrace that the long-accepted practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement must end,” Bloom said at a press conference on Friday, March 7 while accompanied by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and two former SeaWorld orca trainers.

Assemblymember Richard Bloom introduces a bill Friday on the Santa Monica Pier that would end whale shows.
Assemblymember Richard Bloom introduces a bill Friday on the Santa Monica Pier that would end whale shows. | Source

Orcas are very social and family-oriented whales that have a strong matrilineal bond within their pods. These animals are so intelligent that they have their own cultural traditions and societies.

Calves also never leave their mothers and often stay in the same pod until death.

While the familial bond is obvious, orcas are still separated from their families both in the wild and in captivity at as young as one years old.

Many have argued that orcas are safer and live better lives in captivity than they do in the ocean.

That theory is debunked by the fact that most orcas in captivity do not make it beyond their 20s while their expected longevity is between 50 to 90 years in the wild.

In fact, since 1965, 156 orcas have died while in captivity out of an estimated 207 total. Today, only 46 remain.

This means that almost 75 percent of orcas in captivity died before their natural life expectancy.

While these are true documentations, SeaWorld still denies the “Blackfish” accusations. Spokespeople have claimed that it is a one-sided story and therefore is untrue.

However, the film featured several former SeaWorld orca trainers about the dangers of captivity.

“Those are not your whales. You know, you love them, and you think, I’m the one that touches them, feeds them, keeps them alive, gives them the care that they need. But they’re not your whales. They own them,” John Hargrove, one of the former SeaWorld orca trainers, said about his experience with the whales.

The Orca Welfare and Safety Act has one ultimate goal, which is to make the United States entirely free of orca captivity.

Although it would only be put into effect at the SeaWorld in San Diego, it could inspire other state legislators to consider the same for their own aquariums and theme parks, such Six Flags or the Miami Seaquarium.

"Blackfish" movie poster, released in January 2013.
"Blackfish" movie poster, released in January 2013.

“Like the elephant, we have realized that orcas are more complex than most other marine mammals and require more space, have a more complex social structure and most importantly need their family network for a happy and healthy life,” said a fact sheet by Bloom.

If you agree with the bill that puts the welfare of animals before our own selfishness for want of entertainment, be sure to thank Richard Bloom, which can be done on his Facebook page.

To help:

  • Be sure to contact or write to your local congressman about the issue and push the Orca Welfare and Safety Act.
  • Avoid visiting parks and zoos that keep orcas in captivity.
  • Stay involved in the news of this story and write letters to the editor of your local publication.
  • Watch “Blackfish” for yourself.
  • And you can even start a petition on Change.org, iPetitions.com, GoPetition.com, or ThePetitionSite.com.

Thanks to the release of “Blackfish” in 2013, the documentary has caused global attention to marine parks all over the world by the public.

Our own voices have shown that change is possible.

Do you support The Orca Welfare and Safety Act?

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