Can the ORCA Act Shut Down SeaWorld?


As SeaWorld wrapped up warning its investors Thursday that the company’s 2015 profits will be $10 million short of projections, the embattled marine theme park could now be facing a war in Congress.

At a press conference Friday, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) announced his plan to introduce the ORCA Act, a bill aimed at ending the public display of captive orcas, stop captive breeding programs, make artificial insemination illegal, and ban the capturing wild orcas.

If enacted, the bill would essentially phase out all killer whale displays in the United States, making SeaWorld’s staple form of entertainment obsolete.

“The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display,” Schiff said during the press conference in Santa Monica, Calif. “We cannot be responsible stewards of our natural environment and propagate messages about the importance of animal welfare when our behaviors do not reflect our principles.”

According to Schiff, the ORCA (Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement) Act guarantees the orcas in captivity today will be the last ones. “We will appreciate these incredible creatures where they belong—in the wild,” Schiff said.

The legislation is the latest in a long line of hurdles SeaWorld has faced since the 2013 release of the anti-captivity documentary, Blackfish. In 2014, California Assemblymember Richard Bloom sent shockwaves through the marine-mammal industry with his proposed Orca Welfare and Safety Act aimed at ending orca performances and captive breeding programs, which Schiff modeled his bill after.

Bloom’s bill (A.B 2140) died in committee before it could come to a vote—a rare victory for SeaWorld last year, which saw the federal court rule that trainers and orcas performingtogether in tanks is dangerous, and had the California Coastal Commission tell the theme park it had to stop breeding orcas if it wanted to build bigger tanks for its planned $100 million killer whale display.

“There is no justification for the continued captive display and breeding of orcas for entertainment purposes," said Bloom, who attended the press conference. “They belong in their natural habitat where they can travel long distances and feed as predators do.”

Schiff’s ORCA Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), outlines plans for a phase out of the current captive orcas programs such as SeaWorld’s San Diego, San Antonio, and Orlando parks, “giving orca-holding facilities time to transition to a more humane future,” the bill states.

So far, the bill has already gained the support of animal rights organizations such as the Animal Welfare Institute, the Humane Society, and People for the Ethical treatment of Animals.

“The growing body of scientific evidence is compelling for orcas,” said Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “They are simply too large, too wide-ranging, too socially complex, and too intelligent to thrive in any-sized concrete enclosure. Orcas do not belong in captivity.”

This story was originally published on Take Part.

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