SANTA MONICA - A lawmaker introduced legislation Friday that would eventually outlaw orca captivity in California.
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, said he was driven to author the Orca Welfare and Safety Act by allegations of animal abuse made in the documentary "Blackfish."
"It is my belief and the belief of a growing number of scientists that orcas do not belong in captivity," Bloom said at a news conference on the Santa Monica Pier.
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.
Bloom said he does not see the legislation as an attack on SeaWorld, and said it is not meant to harm the theme park's business. He said he believes SeaWorld "does good work" in the community and by providing funding for studies, adding that he thinks it can continue to be a successful business without the orcas.
"These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small concrete pools for their entire lives," Bloom said. "It is time that we embrace that the long accepted practice of keeping orcas
captive for human amusement must end."
Bloom was joined at the news conference by Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite; Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute; and two former SeaWorld orca trainers, John Hargrove and Carol Ray.
SeaWorld San Diego released a statement that called the attendees of the news conference "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, which says the legislation "appears to reflect the same sort of out-of-the-mainstream thinking."
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," according to its statement.
"Blackfish" explores the 2010 death of a 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: 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 `abusement' 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.