Move to ban SeaWorld from using killer whales - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Move to ban SeaWorld from using killer whales

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SAN DIEGO (CNS/CBS 8) - A state lawmaker Friday unveiled legislation that would ban SeaWorld from using orcas in its San Diego shows.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, said he was driven to author the bill by allegations of animal abuse made in the disputed documentary "Blackfish."

"There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes," Bloom said in remarks prepared for the bill's release Friday. "These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives."

It's something local independent activist Ellen Ericksen has been protesting for years.

"I mean literally keeping these orcas captive for 50 years in a chemically treated tank," said Ericksen. "There is no space. It would be like you or me living in a bathtub our whole life."

SeaWorld executives have adamantly denied animal abuse allegations, along with accusations that they do not do enough to protect the trainers who work with killer whales, which can live up to 80 years, grow to 32 feet in length and weigh up to six tons.

SeaWorld San Diego released a statement that called the legislation "severely flawed on multiple levels" and constitutionally questionable.

"We trust that our leaders who are responsible for voting on this proposal will recognize the clear bias of those behind the bill," the SeaWorld statement said.

In a previous statement, theme park officials said people who appeared alongside Bloom at a Santa Monica news conference were "well-known extreme animal rights activists, many of whom regularly campaign against SeaWorld and other accredited marine mammal parks and institutions."

Some in the group have suggested animals in human care should be considered slaves under the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to the theme park's statement.

SeaWorld officials said the planned legislation "appears to reflect the same sort of out-of-the-mainstream thinking."

They noted that SeaWorld already operates under multiple federal, state and local animal welfare laws, and "engage(s) in business practices that are responsible, sustainable and reflective of the balanced values all Americans share."

"Blackfish" explores the 2010 death of trainer at SeaWorld Orlando who was drowned by an orca. Since Dawn Brancheau's death, trainers have not been allowed back into the water with the orcas.

In an open letter, SeaWorld accused Blackfish filmmakers of using emotionally manipulative sequences and relying on animal rights activists masquerading as scientists and former SeaWorld employees with little experience working with killer whales.

Bloom's proposal has three central objectives, according to U-T San Diego: end the use of performing orcas in theme shows, ban captive breeding and prohibit the import and export of the so-called killer whales. It does not seek to prevent SeaWorld from maintaining an orca exhibit so long as it is done in more of an aquarium-like setting.

David Perle, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said it was time to recognize that orcas and dolphins are held captive at SeaWorld and do not belong there.

"Their containment in pitiful swimming pools instead of great oceans and in isolation instead of pods condemns our own race's greed and obliviousness," Perle said. "At SeaWorld and other animal amusement parks, these once-magnificent beings are separated from their families -- including babies who are torn from their mothers' sides -- and can swim only in endless circles between concrete walls, the constant stress of confinement driving them to lash out violently in frustration at each other and their human captors."

He said PETA and its supporters want SeaWorld to retire the orcas to a seaside sanctuary.

"This bill has the potential to end the deep injustice of exhibitions of captive marine life," Perle said.

Among San Diego's legislative delegation, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said she would likely support the bill, while Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, said he is opposed.

"I have seen firsthand the joy that animals can bring to individuals, such as my own grandchildren when they visit San Diego," Chavez said. "I cannot support legislation that will take away from our region's unique identity and will undoubtedly cost us jobs and tourism."

Businesses that handle animals should continue to look for new ways to improve their quality of life, he said.

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said she would study the legislation.

"I have not seen the bill yet, but I respect my colleague and value what SeaWorld does economically and scientifically for our region," Atkins said. "I will carefully consider all the issues and opinions surrounding this legislation."

Atkins is set to become the Assembly speaker, perhaps as early as this spring, which would give her some influence over the fate of Bloom's legislation.

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