'Blackfish' Doc Spurs California Pol To Propose Ban On SeaWorld Orca Shows

 @rpalmerscience on March 07 2014 3:34 PM
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An orca performs at SeaWorld San Diego in 2009. Wikimedia Commons/Yathin S Krishnappa

“Blackfish” might have been shut out of the Oscars, but it’s making waves in California politics. A state lawmaker is pushing for a ban on orca shows at SeaWorld in response to the documentary, which leveled intense criticism at the theme park for the way it treats its killer whales.

“There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes,” California state Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, said in prepared remarks. “These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives.”

The bill would also ban captive breeding as well as the importing and exporting of orcas in California. If the bill passes, killer whales would still be able to be displayed in aquarium settings as long as they weren’t used for performance or entertainment purposes, a San Diego Union-Tribune article said.

SeaWorld has disputed many of the claims about whale welfare outlined in “Blackfish,” but the filmmakers and many scientists say the facts in the documentary are solid science.

In an October piece penned for CNN, Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist for the Washington-based nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute, broke down a lot of the health issues that arise when killer whales are kept captive. The problems are legion: stuck inside tanks that are a tiny fraction of their natural range, captive orcas are basically out-of-shape couch potatoes. They’re often put into artificial social groups, which stresses them out and can depress their immune system. Captive whales also often chew compulsively on metal gates, which can break their teeth and expose them to bacterial infections.

“These factors boil down simply to this: Captivity kills orcas,” Rose wrote. “Yes, they may survive for years entertaining audiences, but eventually the stressors of captivity catch up to them.”

Established research shows that in the wild, male killer whales live an average of 30 years but can live as long as 70; female whales usually live to about 50 years old, but can reach 90.

“In captivity, most orcas die in their teens and 20s and only a handful have made it past 35,” the “Blackfish” filmmakers said in a response to SeaWorld’s claims of inaccuracies in the film. “The annual mortality or death rate for orcas is 2.5 times higher in captivity than it is in the wild. These are not controversial data.”

Whether Bloom’s bill can pass the legislature remains to be seen. SeaWorld San Diego employs about 4,000 people in the peak summertime season and is one of the main tourist attractions in the area.

“SeaWorld, one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, already operates under multiple federal, state and local animal welfare laws,” SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz said in a statement, according to USA Today. “We engage in business practices that are responsible, sustainable and reflective of the balanced values all Americans share.”

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