Report Recommends Expanding SeaWorld Killer Whale Tanks

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California agency sides with SeaWorld on expansion of killer whale tanks.

A state government report released Friday recommends allowing SeaWorld to expand its killer whale facility at its San Diego park, outraging environmentalists who say the tanks could be used to breed more orcas to be kept in captivity. In a victory for SeaWorld, the staff of the California Coastal Commission has recommended the approval of a permit to build an expanded holding facility for the theme park’s killer whales, despite opposition from animal rights groups. The Coastal Commission, a state panel with authority to approve or deny construction projects along the state’s coastal areas, is set Oct. 8 to vote on a plan to expand and replace SeaWorld’s existing holding facility with a new 450,000-gallon pool and a 5.2 million-gallon tank.

The report states that while no orcas have been taken from U.S. waters since the 1980s, the new facility could “potentially create the incentive to commit such capture in the future, which would be an adverse impact to California’s coastal resources and to a species of special biological significance.” Tens of thousands have written the commission about the issue. SeaWorld, which wants to expand the killer whale tanks to 10 million gallons as part of a 1.5-acre attraction showcasing its orca population, had been soliciting public support for the project for months, both at the park and online.

Many expressed opposition to the plans, calling the expansion a marketing ploy to boost its plummeting marine-theme park attendance and not address their belief that orcas should not be in captivity at all. Attendance has dropped since the release of the popular 2013 documentary Blackfish, which suggested SeaWorld’s treatment of captive orcas provokes violent behavior. “This is not limiting them in any way. At the same time, animal rights activists orchestrated an opposition campaign, delivering more than 100,000 emails to the commission imploring the agency to not allow the tank plans to move forward. SeaWorld welcomed the commission’s staff recommendation, pointing out the support it has received from various veterinary, zoological, and academic experts. It also points out on its website that, except for rehabilitation, rescue or support for endangered species, it has not removed a whale or dolphin from the wild in nearly three decades. “This revolutionary project reflects our ongoing commitment to the health and welfare of our killer whales, allows us to enhance educational programs for our guests and students, and provides even greater research opportunities for scientists to help protect whales in the wild,” SeaWorld said in a prepared statement.

Coastal Commission staff said they expect so many opponents and supporters at the meeting that the venue was moved from the Long Beach City Hall to the 400,000-square-foot Long Beach Convention Center. The company, based in Orlando, Florida, said the renovations had been in the works for some time and were not in response to the documentary Blackfish. The company’s stock has fallen 50% over the past two years, and attendance at the original SeaWorld, in San Diego, has lagged behind its other theme parks.

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