So-Called Blackfish Bill Could Devastate SeaWorld

So-Called Blackfish Bill Could Devastate SeaWorld

Photo by Sam Hodgson

This post has been updated.

SeaWorld’s Shamus could be facing extinction if one state lawmaker has his way.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Democrat who represents Malibu and Santa Monica, proposed a bill late this week that would not only bar shows featuring killer whales and captive breeding programs but also have a chilling effect on SeaWorld’s longtime business model.

It essentially puts an expiration date on SeaWorld’s display of killer whales, an approach largely motivated by “Blackfish,” a critical 2013 documentary that panned SeaWorld’s practices. The movie’s director, as well as three opponents of SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales interviewed in the film, appeared with Bloom at a Friday press conference announcing the bill.

SeaWorld San Diego currently has 10 killer whales, most of which were born in captivity through the park’s breeding program.

Halting that program would mean that once the San Diego park’s orcas die, SeaWorld will be unlikely to get new ones.

SeaWorld has publicly distanced itself from past captures  of wild killer whales – a practice that would become illegal under Bloom’s proposed legislation – so an end to its artificial insemination programs would be devastating. (Examples of past captures and transfers of killer whales between SeaWorld’s three parks were central to the movie’s claim that the marine parks abuse the animals, separating them from their mothers and their natural pods.)

There’s just one exception.

If animal handlers rehabilitate a killer whale after a rescue or conduct research and decide the orca wouldn’t survive in the wild, they could hold an orca in “a sea pen that is open to the public and not used for performance or entertainment purposes.”

Again, most of SeaWorld’s killer whales were born to other SeaWorld killer whales, so the rule change could ravage the San Diego park’s longtime tourist draw – unless it can make the case that it’s not using those whales for entertainment purposes.

SeaWorld’s orcas range from as young as a year and as old as 45, according to documentation released by Bloom’s office.

SeaWorld’s continued focus on its killer whales as the cornerstone of its parks – and perhaps its economic livelihood – could depend on how long those whales survive.

Bloom argues this is the best way to prevent mistreatment of animals.

“These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives,” he said in a Friday statement. “It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement.”

Here’s some information Bloom released about SeaWorld San Diego’s orcas:

Corky – Female, captured in Canada in 1969

Kasatka – Female, captured in Iceland in 1978

Ulises – Male, captured in Iceland in 1980

Orkid – Female, 25 years old, mother Kandu (deceased) – Orkid has no living offspring

Keet – Male, 21 years old, mother Kalina, the original Baby Shamu (deceased)

Shouka – Female, 21 years old, mother Sharkan (deceased)

Nakai – Male, 12 years old, mother Kasatka

Ikaika – Male, 11 years old, mother Katina (in Florida)

Kalia – Female, 9 years old, mother Kasatka

Makani – Male, 1 year old, mother Kasatka

SeaWorld confirmed the validity of those details on Friday.

The company accused the assemblyman of associating with “extreme animal rights activists” and dubbed the legislation legally questionable.

Here’s a snippet from the company’s statement:

“The individuals that Assemblyman Bloom chose to associate with for today’s press conference are well-known extreme animal rights activists, many of whom regularly campaign against SeaWorld and other accredited marine mammal parks and institutions.  Included in the group also are some of the same activists that partnered with (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in bringing the meritless claim that animals in human care should be considered slaves under the 13th amendment of the US Constitution – a clear publicity stunt.  This legislation reflects the same sort of out-of-the-mainstream thinking.”

Whether Bloom’s bill has a shot at getting through both the state Assembly and state Senate, and past Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, isn’t so clear.

But the range of responses from San Diego’s Assembly delegation on Friday were revealing.

State Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins, a fellow Democrat whose district includes SeaWorld, said in a Friday statement she would “carefully consider all the issues and opinions surrounding this legislation” and noted SeaWorld’s economic and scientific contributions to the region.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, another San Diego Democrat, said late Thursday she would likely support the bill.

Only Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, who represents North County, came out sharply against Bloom’s bill.

“I cannot support legislation that will take away from our region’s unique identity and will undoubtedly cost us jobs and tourism,” Chávez said in a statement.

Fellow San Diego area Assembly members Brian Maienschein and Shirley Weber had yet to comment publicly early Friday afternoon.

This is part of our Quest: SeaWorld series digging into the park’s impact on our region. Check out the previous story – What SeaWorld Returns to the Wild – and the next in our series  How Much Shamu Means to SeaWorld.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

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26 comments
SwiftJustice2002
SwiftJustice2002 subscriber

Agree with other posters. Questionable use of the word "devastate" in the headline. It's speculative, alarmist and doesn't reference a source. Be wary of editors using Magic 8-Balls to write headlines. 

I am 100% confident that Sea World's creative team-- the same folks who sold the public on the hideously garish splashdown ride now mucking up the skies above Mission Bay-- will dream up many more alternatives to lure visitors. We all know they've got penguins, sharks, polar bears, otters and plenty of other exhibits to keep their turnstiles turning. 


For whatever reason, Voice of San Diego's reporter here has already concluded that the bill will have a "chilling effect" on Sea World. Meanwhile, posters on this message board, including Chris Brewster and Debbie Terry  make compelling arguments to the contrary. 

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

I did what I should have done before expressing an opinion on Rep. Bloom’s attempt to legislate Sea World into stopping it’s Orca shows, I watched “Blackfish” (Free on Netflix if you have streaming video).  My opinion hasn’t changed on Bloom’s grandstanding, and Blackfish is certainly a one-sided look at the issue, complete with the mandatory shot of Whoopie Goldberg, the anti corporate rhetoric alleging that Orca “Tilicum”, blamed for three trainer deaths, was nevertheless kept for the value of his sperm despite his many aggressive moves, and the claim that Orcas’ intelligence may actually exceed that of humans.

Still, the film, replete with stories from countless former trainers from Sea World and other marine parks plus “collectors” who capture the whales in the wild, casts a long shadow on the wisdom of Orcas in captivity, particularly putting fragile humans in a restricted pool with unbelievably strong, agile, marine mammals weighing tons and, at least at times, behaving very aggressively.  Like most people who’ve seen the Shamu shows, I’ve wondered just how tame these creatures are despite their ability and apparent willingness to follow rather complex directions.  There have been sufficient trainer injuries to justify an end to these spectacles, and my guess is that it may come, sooner rather than later.  Pretty much missing in the argument is evidence, from Sea World, of the safeness of it’s practices.  Despite it’s efforts to discredit the film, the Sea World claims of factual errors in the movie have been pretty effectively rebutted by it’s  producers.

I find the fact that that Orca Tilicum, after killing three people, was not either euthanized or released to the wild, simply astounding.  The decision to keep him is inexplicable to me.  Sea World needs to revisit this decision and the necessity of continuing the Shamu spectacles as currently staged. 

michael-leonard
michael-leonard subscriber

Bloom's bill is terrible.

Not only is it simply knee-jerk reaction, badly thought-out (if thought is behind it at all) but it is animal discrimination of the worst sort. It would eliminate orca 'entertainment' but not other aquatic mammal shows. Pitting orcas against dolphins, eh?

kevin ralph
kevin ralph subscriber

Too bad Mr. Bloom didn't feel the same way about the squirrels he supported  killing in Santa Monica because they might have the plague. At the time I was moving he was considering how to control all those "noisy"crows. So even when the animals are in their own environment he's not necessarily a fan.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

My out of town friends and family often go to Sea World when visiting. Afterwards the adults and the kids talk about the rides, dog show, bird show, dolphin show, underwater shark exhibit, etc. The orca show may be a signature show, but I don't get the impression it stands out in a big way for them. I have no idea where this is all going, but I really don't think this move would "devastate" Sea World. In fact, if I were them, realizing that they are going to fight this PR battle for a long time, I would start transitioning to emphasizing aspects of the park other than the orcas. 

James Weber
James Weber subscriber

And children go to bed hungry each night......

Matty Azure
Matty Azure subscriber

FeeWorld has already "devastated" Mission Bay.  "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."  

(A really big parking lot.)

Signed,

Joni Mitchell

Debbie Terry
Debbie Terry subscribermember

Why would it "devastate" Sea World?  People could still bring their kids and drink their beer. Holding orcas and dolphins in those tiny bathtubs is cruel. Money should have nothing to do  with the decision.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

If nothing else the California legislature is consistent. 

This will, even if this were to pass, more than likely will be tied up for a long time.

"This legislation appears to reflect the same sort of out-of-the-mainstream thinking.  SeaWorld, one of the world’s most respected zoological institutions, already operates under multiple federal, state and local animal welfare laws.”

As I learned from the last piece NOAA is part of the Dept of commerce. Just as the egg produces in other states suing on the grounds of interstate commerce violations  this has the potential to be stepping on Federal law and regulations regarding acceptable animal welfare.

We shall see.

Carolyn Chase
Carolyn Chase subscriber

Things change over time.... it's sad to see such an inflammatory headline using "devastate" - even if SeaWorld perceives it that way now - or others want to. I never went there just because of the whales! There's a whole seaverse of things to see and learn about. If indeed they end whale captivity, they have other things to attract the public - including new thrill rides that are already in essence permitted to be added by the City thanks to a plan amendment a few years back by SeaWorld. New people might go who don't now go due to conditions they don't approve of. New things could be developed. Or maybe they will win their case that whales born in captivity cannot be released. If they can't be released I don't see the wisdom in stopping the shows since it's likely much more boring not to play with humans - and in the end, the whales can always eat them if they choose to. Guess I shouldn't mention that but that's a truth too. It's a risk to work with any wild animal, and the animals should not be blamed if they harm their keepers.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

Elections have consequences, some known some unknown but all predictable.

Martha Sullivan
Martha Sullivan subscribermember

If Barcelona, one of Europe's most vibrant major cities, can ban bullfighting and now extend this ban to any representation of it, certainly San Diego can survive ending the torture of intelligent, socially sophisticated marine mammals?

"BARCELONA City Hall plans to ban anything resembling a bullfight. In June 2013, bullfights and any other celebration which included the death of bulls were banned. However, now, having studied the matter with animal defence groups, the council wants to ban any of the steps involved in a bullfight to prevent animals from suffering.

"This will be included in a new law for the Protection, Ownership and Sale of Animals which is due to come into effect in September. It will also include a ban on ‘bullfighting shows’ for performances, films, adverts or any other matter. To get approval to do so, an evaluation will be carried out to determine whether it would be stressful or abusive for the animals. Using wild animals in shows will also be banned."

https://euroweeklynews.com/news/spanish-news/item/119071-ban-on-anything-resembling-bullfighting-by-barcelona-city-hall.

Martha Sullivan
Martha Sullivan subscribermember

Coincidence? San Diego SeaWorld President John Reilly donates $2500 to Kevin Faulcolner's Mayoral campaign from 11/11/13-2/6/14 per inewsource.org. Freshly sworn Mayor Faulconer says eliminating performing captive orcas from the San Diego amusement park would hurt San Diego's economy. Even though Disney's 2 parks in Anaheim and Universal Studio's in Hollywood, neither of which depend on performing captive wild species, draw more visitors and revenue than any of the SeaWorld parks, as reported by Voice of San Diego.

Martha Sullivan
Martha Sullivan subscribermember

CEO of San Diego Seaworld, John Reilly's campaign contributions for our new San Diego Mayor whose not in favor of the new legislation, source inewsource dot org:

$1000 on 2/6/14 and 12/23/13. $500 on 11/11/13, the day of the Mayoral Primary election. He gave Nathan Fletcher $500 on 10/1/13. SW's PAC gave Todd Gloria mentor, Cong. Susan Davis, $3500 over the past 2 election cycles, and Nathan Fletcher almost $3000 in his last term as Assemblymember. San Diego SW CEO switched horses on the day of the Primary election, from Fletcher to Faulconer.

barb graham
barb graham subscriber

@kevin ralph  There's no "might have the plague" about it. Squirrels in socal DO carry the plague, and when they become bold enough to interact with the stupid humans who attract them with food, they have to go.


It happened here in our local campgrounds. But noisy crows and infected wildlife is not even the same thing as what we're discussing here.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

@AzureMatty Come on Matty. get a life.  Mission Bay is hardly "devastated".  It's still relatively uncrowded with lots of open space few urban parks provide.  Relax and enjoy it.  If I have a gripe about Sea World as a neighbor, it's those damn fireworks shows almost every night in the summer.

barb graham
barb graham subscriber

@AzureMatty  They paved over the colony of burrowing owls so they could expand their parking lot. Haven't seen one down there since. Sad, very sad.

James Weber
James Weber subscriber

@AzureMatty  Do you drive a car?  If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

@Jim Jones @Bill Bradshaw  OK, Jim, let's say Tilicum only killed one person; perhaps he was just a clumsy bystander in the other two incidents.  Maybe we should resume Bear Baiting with Grizzlies and Polar Bears?  Or how about Lions vs. Christians?

The captivity argument is one thing, the human trainer issue is a different matter.  Get rid of Tilicum and stop the shows with the human trainers. 

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

Your house was once "native habitat" -- and could be again if you just bulldozed it. In just a few decades it would be wonderful nature again...