Executives at SeaWorld San Diego considered Friday how to respond to a California Coastal Commission ruling that the park may expand the tanks housing its killer whales but must not breed more whales to fill them.
The ruling by the commission at a meeting in Long Beach Thursday throws the future of SeaWorld’s orca attraction into question. As such, it was a blow to SeaWorld and a stunning victory for animal-rights activists who have blasted the park’s treatment of whales.
In a reflection of the long-term implications, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. stock lost $1.13 — 5.91 percent — in early trading Friday, settling at $17.99 per share.
SeaWorld executives had agreed before the commission meeting not to increase the park’s orca population, except through occasional captive births or rescues authorized by government agencies. Officials said the SeaWorld has not captured killer whales in decades.
“We are disappointed with the conditions that the California Coastal Commission placed on their approval of the Blue World Project and will carefully review and consider our options,” Seaworld San Diego President John Reilly said. “Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal’s life and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane.”
Officials with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the decisions will “ultimately end captivity for long-suffering orcas in California.”
“SeaWorld admitted it intended to breed more to fill new tanks,” according to PETA. “But the commission’s action today ensures that no more orcas will be condemned to a non-life of loneliness, deprivation and misery. SeaWorld is a sea circus and the orcas are their abused elephants. PETA wants SeaWorld to stop building tanks and start emptying the ones they’ve got and send the orcas to coastal sanctuaries.”
Executives at the theme park on Mission Bay wanted to build two orca pools, one filled with 5.2 million gallons of water and the other with a capacity of 450,000 gallons, to replace the current 1.7 million gallon tank. The project also would include replacing bathroom facilities for visitors.
As Thursday’s hours-long meeting dragged on, Reilly told the commission the park would be willing to accept a cap of 15 orcas but that banning breeding at the park would eventually lead to the “extinction” of the orca program. The park has 11 killer whales.
The commission staff recommended approval after SeaWorld officials pledged that the facility will not house any orcas that were taken from the wild after Feb. 12, 2014, nor will it utilize killer whale genetic material taken from the wild after that date.
SeaWorld said its orca project is supported by the national and state associations of zoos and aquariums, some veterinarians and researchers, and a bipartisan group of local elected officials.
Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said that SeaWorld’s business “is circling the drain as an enlightened public is objecting to the confinement of orcas in bleak bathtubs for the sake of entertainment.”
— City News Service