SeaWorld approved for whale tank expansion, captive breeding ban - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

SeaWorld approved for whale tank expansion, captive breeding banned

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    A state government report released Friday recommends allowing SeaWorld to expand its killer whale facility at its San Diego park, outraging environmentalists who say the tanks could be used to breed more orcas to be kept in captivity. 
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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8/CNS) - The controversial plan by SeaWorld San Diego to expand its killer whale tanks was approved Thursday by the California Coastal Commission.

The California Coastal Commission also banned any future breeding of whales. 

"We are disappointed with the conditions that the California Coastal Commission placed on their approval of the Blue World Project, and will carefully review and consider our options," Seaworld San Diego President John Reilly said. "Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal's life and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane."

The plan had drawn objections by some animal rights advocates, but commission staff had recommended approval.

Hundreds of SeaWorld supporters boarded buses early Thursday morning to head up to the Long Beach Convention Center to lend their support for SeaWorld’s Blue World Project.

Blue World is a $100 million project that would expand SeaWorld San Diego’s current killer whale habitat to 10 million gallons.

Executives at the theme park on Mission Bay will build two orca pools, one filled with 5.2 million gallons of water and the other with a capacity of 450,000 gallons, to replace the current 1.7 million gallon tank.

The project also would include replacing bathroom facilities for visitors.

RELATED STORY: People pack meeting of panel eyeing expansion of whale tanks

RELATED STORY: Report recommends approving bigger orca tanks

Animal rights groups that have been trying for years to get the orcas released into the wild argue that the whales might have larger tanks under the SeaWorld plan but would still be captive.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement that hundreds of the group's supporters attended the meeting in Long Beach to urge commissioners to vote the project down.

"SeaWorld's tanks, regardless of size, deny these highly intelligent animals the social bonds, open space, freedom, and stimulation that they would have in their natural ocean homes," said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman.

"PETA is calling on the California Coastal Commission to vote down SeaWorld's Blue World Project, because what these orcas need is to be released into a seaside sanctuary, not a rebranded prison."

Dr. Paul Ponganis, a research physiologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said last week that the project will result in new opportunities for researchers to conduct studies that will benefit killer whales and other cetaceans in the wild.

The commission staff recommended approval after SeaWorld officials pledged that the facility will not house any orcas taken from the wild after Feb. 12, 2014, nor will it utilize killer whale genetic material taken from the wild after the same date.

SeaWorld also agreed to not increase its orca population except through occasional captive births or rescues authorized by government agencies.

According to SeaWorld, the project is supported by the national and state associations of zoos and aquariums, some veterinarians and researchers, and a bipartisan group of local elected officials. California Coastal Commission staff attached eight conditions to its plan-acceptance recommendation; they are designed to limit the project's impact on the surrounding area.

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