SeaWorld clears one California hurdle for expanded orca tanks

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

LOS ANGELES – California regulators yesterday (Sept 25) recommended approval of a plan by SeaWorld San Diego to build larger tanks for its killer whales despite strong opposition from tens of thousands of people who want to see the killer whales released instead. A state government report released on Friday recommends allowing SeaWorld to expand its killer whale facility at its San Diego park, outraging environmentalists who say the larger tanks could be used to breed more orcas to be kept in captivity.

The staff of the California Coastal Commission made the recommendations ahead of the regulatory board’s Oct. 8 meeting where it is scheduled to vote on SeaWorld’s permit request for the $100 million expansion. Those include one provision limiting SeaWorld on how it could expand its population of 11 killer whales and requiring the theme park to protect the sea mammals from noise during construction. SeaWorld, which wants to expand the holding tanks’ water volume to 9.6 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 from around the world imploring the agency to not allow the tank plans to move forward. The proposal has generated so much interest the meeting will be held at the massive Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center to accommodate members of the public wanting to attend, Ms Schwartz said. “Please deny SeaWorld the opportunity to build a bigger prison. Help get the orcas one step closer to a world where they can really thrive – not in tanks, but in seaside sanctuaries,” stated a typical emailed petition.

In recommending approval of the Blue World project, as it is called, Coastal Commission staff made note of the heightened concerns that have been raised about marine mammals in captivity. “Commission staff determined that, while no orcas have been taken from U.S. waters since the 1980s, their future capture is still a possibility, and that a captive orca system generally, and this proposed orca facility expansion specifically, 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.” At the urging of the Coastal Commission staff, SeaWorld recently amended its application, making a commitment to not house in the new tanks any killer whales taken from the wild after Feb. 12, 2014, nor use genetic material from any whales collected from the wild after that same date. By making such a pledge, codified in a special condition, there is less chance “that approval of this facility could contribute to demand for capturing orcas that frequent California’s coastal waters,” the commission staff said in its report. SeaWorld says in its proposal that the orca population housed at the new facility would not significantly increase – which would meet one of the nine conditions recommended by the staff. SeaWorld on Friday welcomed the commission’s staff recommendation, highlighting the support it has received from various veterinary, zoological, and academic experts. In addition to the special condition the staff has proposed governing the use of the new tank, it also imposed a number of other requirements related to traffic, water conservation, runoff and noise reduction.

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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