First-term Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Westside L.A.) found a fine way to greet incoming Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). He proposed legislation that would effectively ban SeaWorld’s most popular attraction, performing orcas—in her district.
Bloom said he was inspired by “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. Bloom announced his bill with the film’s director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, at his side.
“There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes,” Bloom said in a statement. “These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives. It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement.”
SeaWorld disagrees and spokesman David Koontz explained why. It’s unAmerican not to like performing orcas. “We engage in business practices that are responsible, sustainable and reflective of the balanced values all Americans share.” That would be all Americans except the “extreme animal rights activists” Bloom has chosen to associate himself with.
“Included in the group are some of the same activists that partnered with PETA in bringing the meritless claim that animals in human care should be considered slaves under the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution— a clear publicity stunt.”
Clearly, that claim in a lawsuit had publicity value. A lot more people are now aware of research that indicates captivity takes a heavy mental and physical toll on the highly intelligent animals—shortening their life spans, impairing them physically and driving them a bit nuts.
But the orcas sure are entertaining to a lot of people. San Diego’s SeaWorld 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, according to U-T San Diego.
SeaWorld currently has around 10 orcas and is the only theme park in California that has them.
Newly-elected Mayor Kevin Faulconer defended SeaWorld, touting its educational and conservation efforts, as well as its economic importance. But his position may not be as important as that taken by future Speaker Atkins, who will become the most powerful person in the Assembly this summer.
So far, she is tiptoeing around the issue. “I have not seen the bill yet, but I respect my colleague and value what SeaWorld does economically and scientifically for our region,” she said in a statement. “I will carefully consider all the issues and opinions surrounding this legislation.”