California Assembly committee tables proposed bill that would end killer whale shows

SAN DIEGO - An Assembly committee on Tuesday beached a controversial bill designed to ban orca shows in California, like the ones at SeaWorld San Diego.

The Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee didn't vote on the bill by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, instead returning it for further study.

According to the Sacramento Bee, that move shelves the proposed legislation until at least next year. Bloom agreed to the delay, according to the newspaper.

"I'm very glad we had the discussion this morning on the dangers orca shows present -- not just to the whales but to the employees of Sea World," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, a member of the committee and a supporter of the bill. "The fight lives on for another day and I'm confident that some of the legitimate concerns about implementing AB 2140 can be worked out by the next time we discuss the troubling practice of keeping orcas in captivity for entertainment purposes."

Bloom said he was driven to author the bill by allegations of animal abuse made in the documentary "Blackfish." He said when he announced his proposal that there is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes, and that they are much too large and intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks.

The bill gained the support of animal rights groups.

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.

A SeaWorld San Diego spokesperson called the legislation "severely flawed on multiple levels" and constitutionally questionable.

Jerry Sanders, the former San Diego mayor and now CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said SeaWorld is one of the region's "finest corporate citizens and one of the world's most distinguished" zoological organizations.

"They are also a pillar of our region's tourism economy, drawing millions of visitors every year and employing thousands of San Diegans," Sanders said. "We work hard every day at the chamber to create jobs and expand our economy. SeaWorld is an integral part of the San Diego community because of the research efforts they lead and the jobs that they create."

Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the public has learned how orcas "suffer psychologically, succumb to premature deaths, and lash out in frustration and aggression in
SeaWorld's orca pits and they've responded with lower attendance levels, public protests and legislation."

She urged SeaWorld  to figure out how to release the orcas into ocean sanctuaries. PETA has protested outside SeaWorld San Diego for many years. 

"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.

Bloom's proposal aimed to end the use of performing orcas in theme shows, ban captive breeding and prohibit the import and export of so-called killer whales. It did not seek to prevent SeaWorld from having an orca exhibit,
as long as it is done in more of an aquarium-like setting.

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