"As a regulatory board charged with managing coastal development and related land-use decisions, the Coastal Commission went way beyond its jurisdiction and authority when it banned breeding by killer whales at SeaWorld," said Joel Manby, President and Chief Executive Officer.
According to SeaWorld, animal welfare is governed by federal and state laws that do not fall within the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission's appointed board.
PETA Director of Animal Law Jared Goodman accused SeaWorld officials of "blowing smoke."
"The legislature required the Commission to protect all resources that exist within the coastal zone, as the orcas at SeaWorld plainly do," Goodman said. "Just as the commission still controls natural spaces that have been spoiled, it retains jurisdiction over wild orcas, whether captured or captive born."
The vote by the Commission came during the course of its ultimate approval of the "Blue World Project" - a $100 million expansion of the tanks used to hold orcas at SeaWorld San Diego. That ruling also outlined a series of restrictions on SeaWorld, including a ban on breeding and prohibitions on the sale, trade or transfer of the whales.
"It simply defies common sense that a straightforward land-use permit approval would turn into a ban on animal husbandry practices - an area in which the Commissioners have no education, training or expertise," added Manby.
The park 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."
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Animal rights activists praised the decision as a death blow to the use of killer whales at the California ocean park.
Commissioner Dayna Bochco, who brought up the no-breeding amendment, said she agreed with scientists who believe that the killer whales are suffering in captivity.
"They don't belong in captivity," she said.
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Under the expansion, SeaWorld would demolish portions of a 1995 facility that included a 1.7-million gallon pool and replace it with a 5.2-million gallon tank and 450,000-gallon pool.
The Orlando, Florida-based company had said the orca population at the San Diego facility, 11 whales, would not significantly increase because of the "Blue World" project.
Coastal Commissioner Gregory Cox, who favored the expansion, said it would be a good thing to increase the size of the orcas' habitat.