SeaWorld plans to fight a decision by the California Coastal Commission that bans the breeding of killer whales in captivity, a condition that the agency attached to its approval of a multimillion-dollar expansion of the whale habitat in San Diego.
The company said that the commission overreached its mandate when it added the restrictions during a hearing last week. The discussion, the company said, should have focused on land use, not animal husbandry.
The statement released on Thursday by SeaWorld Entertainment was referring to a decision that went to the heart of one of the San Diego marine theme park’s main attractions: the 11 killer whales, or orcas, that are on display and perform there. The commission’s decision, which halted the breeding of the whales and called into question the future of the shows, had been applauded by animal-rights activists.
California Approves SeaWorld’s Whale Habitat Expansion but Bans BreedingOCT. 9, 2015
SeaWorld had sought approval for a $100 million endeavor called the Blue World Project, which planned for a habitat with a depth of 50 feet, doubling the water volume of the existing facility. It was expected to be open to the public in 2018.
But the Oct. 8 hearing over the expansion plans included discussions about the captivity and capturing of the whales, with the amendment on breeding and another one on whale transport pinned as conditions to the final approval for the project.
“As a regulatory board charged with managing coastal development and related land-use decisions, the Coastal Commission went way beyond its jurisdiction and authority when it banned breeding by killer whales at SeaWorld,” Joel Manby, the president and chief executive of SeaWorld Entertainment, said in the statement.
“It simply defies common sense that a straightforward land-use permit approval would turn into a ban on animal husbandry practices — an area in which the Commissioners have no education, training or expertise,” Mr. Manby said.
A spokeswoman for the commission, Noaki Schwartz, said on Friday it would have no comment on the SeaWorld statement because it had not seen a formal complaint.
SeaWorld had said after the Oct. 8 decision that prohibiting whales from reproducing in captivity was cruel.
In an op-ed piece published by The San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday, Dayna Bochco, the vice chairwoman of the coastal commission, did not address directly the announcement that SeaWorld would pursue legal action, but said that captivity itself is the “primary cruelty” and explained some of the commission’s thinking.
“While passions ran high in the hearing room, the commission’s 11 to 1 vote to add these conditions to the project was substantively grounded in Coastal Act policies that protect marine resources and species of special biological significance — which surely describes orcas,” Ms. Bochco wrote. “These policies are routinely applied to marine mammals in the wild, but the law does not preclude their application to captive marine mammals.”
“This was not a power grab,”
“If SeaWorld’s longevity projections are correct, the company now has about 40 years to phase out public display with its current whale collection, and plan for a Shamu-free future.”
One of SeaWorld’s biggest critics, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the Coastal Commission acted within its expansive jurisdiction over marine mammals, according to a report in The Union-Tribune.
“SeaWorld is blowing smoke,” said the PETA Foundation director of animal law, Jared Goodman. “Although the Coastal Act focuses on protecting open spaces and wildlife in their native state, it contains no limiting language that excludes captive wildlife. Rather, the legislature required the Commission to protect all resources that exist within the coastal zone, as the orcas at SeaWorld plainly do.”