After a long day of speeches, the California Coastal Commission voted to ban captive whale breeding in SeaWorld’s San Diego park, as well as to significantly restrict the movement of whales in and out of the park. These were set as conditions for the approval of SeaWorld’s $100 million habitat expansion, which detractors say is too little, too late, and that construction will cause the 11 orcas in the park extreme stress.

According to the LA Times, the commission’s vote will allow the park to replace its 1.7-million-gallon holding facility with a new 450,000-gallon pool and a 5.2-million-gallon tank. John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer who appeared in Blackfish, was against the expansion, telling commissioners it wouldn’t offer “meaningful improvement” to the orcas’ lives and that “captivity is captivity no matter how gentle the jailer.”

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Via the Times:

Ingrid Visser, head of the Orca Research Trust in New Zealand, blasted the project, saying whales in the wild swim an average distance of 138 miles per day and dive to depths of about 600 feet. The new tank will have a surface area of 1.5 acres and a depth of 50 feet.

“These new tanks do not meet these basic requirements,” she said. “No facility ever will.”

Opponents of the project—including Pamela Anderson, who was in attendance—have called on SeaWorld to move its whales out of the facility entirely to a seaside sanctuary.

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While the commission ultimately approved the expansion project, the ban on captive breeding has been considered a win by animal rights activists.

“SeaWorld has admitted that it intended to breed even more orcas to fill the new tanks, but the commission’s action today ensures that no more orcas will be condemned to a nonlife of loneliness, deprivation and misery,” PETA spokesman Ben Williamson said in a statement.

SeaWorld’s representatives were less pleased. “A ban on breeding would sentence these animals to a slow extinction in our care,” John Reilly, president of SeaWorld San Diego, told the LA Times—although it seems likely that the only negative outcome of such “extinction” would be in the park’s profitability. In a statement after the vote, SeaWorld said:

“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. 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.”

Not sure what’s so natural about artificial insemination and forced inbreeding, but SeaWorld has proven again and again that humane treatment of the highly intelligent animals in their care isn’t actually much of a priority.


Contact the author at ellie@jezebel.com.

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Image via Associated Press.