SeaWorld has passed one regulatory hurdle for their plans to expand tank space at their San Diego orca facility, which faces harsh criticism from environmentalists.
How sad it is to see one of the most majestic and ferocious hunters in the ocean, the orca, or killer whale, confined to a tiny pool for the viewing pleasure of terrestrial beings. According to a report from the Associated Press, the state of California is trying to do something about it. A new report released from state officials urges the ocean-themed attraction SeaWorld to approve larger tanks for its performing animals.
The report specifically singles out SeaWorld’s killer whale park in San Diego, which has caused recent outrage among environmentalists who have called for larger tanks. They argue that if they had more space, orcas could be specifically bred for captivity instead of being captured from the wild.
Staff members of the California Coastal Commission recommended the changes in anticipation of the regulatory board’s meeting on October 8th, where it is scheduled to pass a vote on a permit request on behalf of SeaWorld. The staff recommended the addition of nine conditions to the permit that would prohibit SeaWorld from keeping orcas captured from the wild.
The commission has received tens of thousands of letters from people opposing the plans, accusing the company of using the expansion plans as a marketing tactic to boost attendance that continues to plummet as people learn about the conditions their orcas are typically kept in. Attendance dropped even more sharply after the release of “Blackfish,” a popular documentary that catalogued the treatment of the whales, often provoking violent behavior.
The provisions set forth by the California commission would not ban the breeding of captive orcas at the San Diego SeaWorld location. The only orcas from the wild SeaWorld would be permitted to keep after February 2014 were those that were rescued.
It would also be barred from using any genetic material from whales caught in the wild after the same date. SeaWorld accepted the conditions and reiterated that it had not captured a wild whale in nearly 35 years.
SeaWorld’s expansion plans include demolishing portions of its older “Shamu” facility, replacing a 1.7 million gallon pool with a 5.2 million gallon pool. The existing stadium would remain as it is. The park would not increase the orca population by a significant amount.
The project, dubbed “Blue World,” would open in 2018 if it is approved. SeaWorld has pledged funding for further research on the orcas in its facilities along with programs that support oceans and wild whales.
The Orlando, FL based company has said that the renovations had been in the planning stages for a considerable amount of time and were not initiated in response to the “Blackfish” documentary released in 2013.
SeaWorld’s stock has plummeted over 50 percent in the last two years, and attendance at its original San Diego location has been at an all-time low. California legislators have proposed outright bans on performances featuring killer whales, keeping the criticism of SeaWorld in the public’s attention. The company has cited increased competition from other theme parks as a main reason for its lag in performance.