San Diego City Council's SeaWorld recognition prompts PETA protest

SAN DIEGO - The City Council proclaimed March "SeaWorld San Diego Month" Tuesday in honor of the theme park's 50th anniversary.

The attraction on Mission Bay opened a half-century ago Friday and gained popularity with its "Shamu" orca performances. SeaWorld later built parks in Orlando and San Antonio.

More than 156 million visitors have passed through SeaWorld gates in San Diego.

"Thanks to SeaWorld and its partner, Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute, we now have a better understanding of marine life, their challenges, and how we can ensure the protection and education for future generations," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. "I think as everyone on this council knows, SeaWorld is one of San Diego's largest employers."

The mayor said the theme park has employed 93,000 San Diegans over the years, while  generating tax revenue for the city.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, whose district represented part of the theme park before council maps were redrawn a couple of years ago, said SeaWorld has made "amazing contributions to San Diego."

The anniversary comes amid controversy over keeping orcas in captivity, which has been heightened by the documentary "Blackfish."

A Democratic assemblyman in Santa Monica introduced a bill to ban shows involving killer whales. Assemblyman Richard Bloom said the legislation was inspired by "Blackfish."

Before the City Council met Tuesday, activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals demonstrated outside, holding signs and handing out fliers. PETA has for years accused SeaWorld of mistreating animals.

During the meeting, six members of the public criticized SeaWorld or called on park officials to modernize their facilities to provide their animals with more freedom.

"Captivity, or a captive display, is not conservation, and I urge you not to confuse them," Jane Cartmill, of San Diego Animal Activists, told the council members.

She said SeaWorld's research is largely focused on captive breeding and doesn't benefit wild populations.

Katie Arth, PETA's campaign manager, said the City Council is out of touch with what San Diegans want.

"After the film 'Blackfish' came out, people were shocked," Arth said. "Attendance has been dropping."

10News checked and SeaWorld Entertainment actually saw the biggest boost in visitors at the end of last year after "Blackfish" was released. However, attendance did drop 4.1 percent from 2012 to 2013.

However, that did not stop the company from a record net revenue of about $1.46 billion last year -- $36 million more than the previous year.

SeaWorld stands by their ethical treatment of animals. The park itself is a paying customer, which is a huge shot in the arm for the city. They're on city-owned land, which means they fork over $12 million to $14 million in rent.

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