SeaWorld Sues State for Whale Breeding Ban


Lisa Chik

SeaWorld filed a lawsuit challenging the California Coastal Commission’s stipulation that bans the San Diego theme park from breeding captive orcas last Tuesday. The commission endorsed a $100 million expansion of SeaWorld’s killer whale tanks last October but included a ban on breeding and transferring the animals.

The park’s attorneys argued that the California Coastal Commission cannot incorporate a clause prohibiting breeding since it does not have authority over SeaWorld’s orcas.

“This last-minute ‘no breeding or transfer’ condition is unprecedented, and it is plainly illegal for one very clear reason: The Coastal Commission’s jurisdiction … does not extend to the care, breeding or transport of the SeaWorld orcas because the orcas are not, in any way, part of the coastal or marine environment,” SeaWorld’s complaint stated. “All of SeaWorld’s activities with respect to the care, breeding and transportation of orcas occur onshore in the orca pools and not in the marine environment and are specifically governed by federal law.”

Public Information Officer of the California Coastal Commission Noaki Schwartz told the UCSD Guardian that the agency cannot comment directly on the lawsuit, but “the commission stands by its decision in October to protect killer whales.”  

Director of Animal Law at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Jared Goodman argued that the lawsuit is a waste of taxpayers’ money, the court’s time and the California Coastal Commission’s resources.

“The Coastal Act gives the commission power to protect the coastal resources of California including marine resources and marine animals,” Goodman told the Guardian. “The Coastal Commission is right to ban orca breeding as a condition of SeaWorld’s new tanks and acted fully within its authority under state law in doing so.”

SeaWorld’s complaint, filed with the Superior Court of the State of California, includes information about its breeding program’s compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act as well as the Animal Welfare Act of 1970.

“SeaWorld is strictly regulated by the federal government, with frequent random inspections by federal veterinarians and other officials,” a statement released by the park affirmed. “The company passes strict licensing requirements every year and is accredited by organizations including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.”

Staff Research Associate at Scripps’ Marine Bioacoustics Lab Ally Rice told the Guardian that whales born in natural habitats are physically and socially different than whales born in captivity due to their confinement in unnatural environments. Noticeable differences include the inability to swim long distances, shortened lifespans, separation from family members, early female impregnation, dorsal fin deformation and communication issues.

“The whales at SeaWorld, while perhaps afforded the highest level of care of any facility holding marine mammals, are still confined to tanks that are a small fraction of what they would have available to them in the wild,” Rice said. “Killer whales can live 30 to 50 years in the wild whereas the average in U.S. captivity is around 12 years.”

Goodman proposed that SeaWorld shifts its efforts from a lawsuit to improving the park for both visitors and animals by creating coastal sanctuaries for the orcas and technological advancements.

“This is SeaWorld’s opportunity … to modernize their business practices and to stop captive breeding,” Goodman said. “With virtual reality and other more interactive experiences, guests actually learn things about animals in their natural states.”