Updated at 6:55 p.m. Oct. 15, 2015
“Animal welfare is governed by federal and state laws that do not fall within the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission’s appointed board,” the company said.
The vote by the commission came during the course of its approval of the $100 million Blue World Project, which will nearly double space for the killer whales at the park.
“It simply defies common sense that a straightforward land-use permit approval would turn into a ban on animal husbandry practices — an area in which the commissioners have no education, training or expertise. To say that this is a dubious decision with no legal basis is an understatement,” said Joel Manby, the company’s president and chief executive officer.
The park is regulated by the federal government, with frequent random inspections by federal veterinarians and other officials. It must also meet accreditation standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which says SeaWorld is “meeting or exceeding the highest standard of animal care and welfare of any zoological organization in the world.”An animal-right lawyer with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals reacted to the news by saying “SeaWorld is blowing smoke.”
In a statement Thursday afternoon, PETA Foundation’s Jared Goodman told Times of San Diego that the Coastal Commission acted “fully within its authority.”
The commission’s jurisdiction over marine mammals is expansive, he said.
“Although the Coastal Act focuses on protecting open spaces and wildlife in their native state, it contains no limiting language that excludes captive wildlife,” Goodman said. “Rather, the Legislature required the commission to protect all resources that exist within the coastal zone, as the orcas at SeaWorld plainly do.
“The act applies to both ‘natural and artificial resources,’ whether they are in public or private hands. The commission has exercised its jurisdiction over every part of the coast, from pristine preserves to ‘abandoned and decaying’ industrial areas.”
He said that just as the commission “still controls natural spaces that have been spoiled, it retains jurisdiction over wild orcas, whether captured or captive-born.”
But the executive director of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums took SeaWorld’s side, calling the commission’s decision to ban orca breeding “stunning.”
Kathleen Dezio, the director, said in a statement that the agency’s action “clearly overreaches the commission’s authority.”
“If upheld,” she said, “it sets a very dangerous precedent not only for SeaWorld, but for the entire zoological community, and SeaWorld is right to challenge it.”Dezeio said it is “disturbing to see a state regulatory body make a decision like this that would have such a chilling effect on zoos and aquariums across the country, and we believe SeaWorld should prevail in this challenge.”
She said the ban is “clearly” not in the best interests of animal welfare.
“It would deprive them of an important and natural part of their lives and denying them the enrichment of offspring. It’s also not in keeping with the professional best practices of the accredited zoological community and would impede SeaWorld’s ability to optimize genetic diversity and maintain a sufficient population to serve current and future conservation and education commitments.”
She concluded: “Over time, the ban would undermine the significant rescue and rehabilitation work with stranded animals SeaWorld does along California coasts and jeopardize its important scientific research on cetaceans, which has led to much of what we know today about killer whales.”
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who has made efforts to ban orca shows at SeaWorld via AB 2140, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, applauded the commission’s ruling.
“The Coastal Commission decision to end captive breeding reflects our scientific knowledge of the detrimental effects of orca captivity, as well as the public’s overwhelming call to end this inhumane practice,” Bloom, D-Santa Monica, said last week. “In light of this development, my office will be reviewing the remaining concerns for and crafting legislation to address outlying issues, such as the future of the 11 orcas still in the SeaWorld tanks.”
In 2014, an Assembly committee decided the bill’s vote should be delayed in favor of an interim study to allow the state time to gather all the facts surrounding the health and well-being of orcas in captivity, he said.
“Orca captivity is incompatible with orca health. This ruling by the Commission is encouraging but it is dependent on SeaWorld moving forward with the Blue World Project,” Bloom said. “If they decide not to move forward, SeaWorld will be able to continue to practice captive breeding.
“Additionally, the commission ruling did not address the use of orcas as entertainment, such as forcing them to perform acts they would not do in the wild. For these and other issues, it may be necessary to pursue more extensive orca protections.”
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: