State legislation, ballyhooed by animal rights advocates last month, that would put an end to orca shows at San Diego's SeaWorld died Tuesday without even a committee vote.
The bill's author, Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Westside L.A.), said the legislation is not dead but it is, and he acknowledged that it won't be reintroduced until next year at the earliest. The decision by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee not to vote on the matter deep-sixed it and saved the Assembly's soon-to-be Speaker, Toni Atkins, the uncomfortable chore of having to deal with it. SeaWorld is in her district.
Bloom said he was OK with the committee's action and it would give everyone a chance to study the issue for a future vote. The first-term Assemblyman called it “a positive step forward.” But SeaWorld San Diego President John Reilly told U-T San Diego he thought the legislation was “fatally flawed” and there was no room for compromise on it.
Bloom introduced Assembly Bill 2140 after seeing the documentary “Blackfish,” a documentary built around the Orlando SeaWorld orca Tilikum that killed three people (two trainers and a trespasser) and the conditions of captivity that may have contributed to its behavior.
The bill would have made “it unlawful to hold in captivity, or use, a wild-caught or captive-bred orca, as defined, for performance or entertainment purposes.” The orcas would be moved into a larger sea pen and could not be bred.
The main issue debated, before the committee canned the bill, was whether the killer whales are thriving as performing show animals in a constrained habitat or being brutalized by it. “They are just too large, too intelligent, too socially complex, and they are too far-ranging to be put in confinement this way,” Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
But the future of SeaWorld's orca research center is part of the debate, as is money. Especially money. The 10 orcas at SeaWorld are big business. They are the main attraction that reportedly draws around 4.4 million visitors a year from all around the world, comparable to the world famous San Diego Zoo. The park generates 4,000 jobs and pays the city $9.6 million in rent.
There are approximately 53 orcas known to be in captivity. SeaWorld critics say all evidence points toward animal abuse. The captive killer whales' lives are short and they are prone to disease, have difficulty breeding, display extreme aggression and in some cases appear to be a bit nuts, they say.
Nonsense, says Dr. Chris Dold, vice president of veterinary services for SeaWorld San Diego. “To be clear, the whales at SeaWorld are thriving,” he said, and any changes in their environment now would disrupt their routines and “increase their health risks.”