Friday August 26th, The California State Legislature made a huge step by approving a historic bill that would ban the breeding of captive killer whales and orca performances in the state of California. The bill would also prohibit exporting captive orcas out of the country. If violated, there would be a hefty fine of up to $100k.
The legislation was presented as a rider to a budget bill, which passed 26–13. Democrats voted in favor of the measure and Republicans were opposed to it. It will now go to California Governor Jerry Brown’s desk to be signed.
“It took us long enough, and it was quite the wild ride, but it’s done, although it still has to go to Governor Brown,” Rose said. “But we hear he is inclined to sign it.”
“The governor has until Sept. 30 to take action,” Deborah Hoffman, Brown’s deputy press secretary, said in an email. “We generally don’t comment on pending legislation.”
Democratic Assembly member Richard Bloom introduced the initial bill in March 2014 in efforts to end the display of captive orcas in the California legislature. That bill, which had also required that killer whales be sent to retire in sea sanctuaries was opposed by SeaWorld and Tony Atkins who was the Assembly leader at the time.
Bloom’s efforts however remained persistent and he reintroduced the bill, without the sea sanctuary provision. It passed an Assembly vote on June 21.
“Today is a victory of many years in the making,” Bloom said in a statement. “The Orca Protection Act is a product of scientific consensus, immense public support, and a concerted legislative effort to protect this intelligent and majestic animal.”
SeaWorld had unexpectedly announced in March 2016 that it would immediately end its captive orca breeding program and phase out killer whale shows at its parks in San Diego, Orlando, and San Antonio by 2019. They will be replacing those programs and shows with more “natural” displays containing a stronger educational component.
“As a result of our recent announcement, SeaWorld worked with Mr. Bloom on this legislation, but we do not have a position on the bill itself,” the company said in a statement in March. “SeaWorld is already making the changes called for in the legislation.”
“Importantly, the bill does allow for SeaWorld to rescue and rehabilitate stranded orcas, with the goal of returning them to the wild,” the company added. “And, if the federal government determines that the orca is not releasable, that animal could stay in SeaWorld’s care.”
“A law is far better than any corporate policy,” Rose said, adding that she would like to see similar bills pertaining to beluga whales, dolphins, and ultimately, all captive marine mammals.
SeaWorld is fighting to defeat a similar federal bill introduced last November by Representative Adam Schiff.
The Animal Welfare Institute has obtained federal records showing that SeaWorld has spent at least $300k lobbying on the congressional bill.
“They say they are just holding educational meetings with Congress members, but several offices have told me [SeaWorld officials] are actively lobbying against the bill, saying that it’s unnecessary because they’re already doing those things,” said Chris Hyde, the institute’s deputy director of government and legal affairs.
“I’m elated,” said Samantha Berg, a cosponsor and a former SeaWorld orca trainer who was featured in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which inspired Bloom to author the legislation. “It’s historic and sets a precedent for the rest of the country.