The Commission Passed the Motion, with Conditions Prohibiting the San Diego Park from Breeding and Transferring the Captive Orcas
SeaWorld San Diego’s proposed Blue World Project, which seeks to expand the park’s orca tanks, came to a vote before the members of the California Coastal Commission today in Long Beach. Sea Shepherd representatives and supporters were in attendance on behalf of the orcas held captive in SeaWorld’s tanks, which can never replicate the whales’ expansive natural ocean home – regardless of the size of these marine-park prison cells.
The Seaside Ballroom of the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center was packed with a capacity crowd of at least 500 today with an overflow of another 100 individuals watching the proceedings from the corridors outside, as this hotly debated issue was addressed for a whopping 10 hours. For Sea Shepherd, the answer is simple: Sea Shepherd Founder Captain Paul Watson has said it is always important that we ask ourselves, “Would this change be better for the animals? Would they want this?” Undoubtedly, larger tanks would represent a small improvement in the grim daily lives of these orcas. However, SeaWorld has said that breeding of its captive orcas would continue. It is also likely that other orcas will be transferred to and from these tanks. SeaWorld itself stated that the park could not support many more orcas than the 11 currently there. The reality is that the expanded enclosures would do more to increase SeaWorld’s profits than it would to make a positive difference for the whales.
Speaking on behalf of Sea Shepherd was Campaign Coordinator David Hance, who gave an impassioned speech calling on the Commission to uphold its stated mission to "protect, conserve, restore, and enhance" the California Coastal environment by denying SeaWorld’s permit.
Hance spoke of the cruelty inherent in holding highly intelligent and socially complex cetaceans in barren tanks, and forcing them to perform. Also a veteran Cove Guardian crewmember of Sea Shepherd’s Taiji Dolphin Defense Campaign, he addressed the inextricable link between the captive industry and the slaughter of dolphins and small whales in Taiji. Though SeaWorld has stated that it does not house cetaceans from drive fisheries, it does play a large part in fueling the demand for captive dolphins and whales – the same demand that keeps the hunters in business.
Sea Shepherd’s concerns that the SeaWorld expansion could have drastic environmental consequences were also strongly emphasized; the Blue World Project is slated to be constructed directly adjacent to an industrial toxic waste site and landfill, replete with methane and hydrogen sulfide gas contamination. Sea Shepherd believes that any mitigation and monitoring measures SeaWorld promises would be grossly inadequate.
SeaWorld’s representatives did not successfully show that the Blue World Project would be a significant improvement in the lives of the whales, nor that it would benefit ocean education and conservation. Claims made by SeaWorld ranged from the usual propaganda to downright outrageous nonsense. The audience could not hold back laughter when statements from SeaWorld reps were read, claiming that whales live just as long in captivity as they do in the wild. A commissioner reported that when asked what SeaWorld’s position would be if the company was asked to stop breeding orcas, SeaWorld Animal Training Supervisor Lindy Donahue stated that it would be “cruel to deprive the whales of the rewarding experience of being a parent.” Audible gasps came from the crowd upon hearing this statement made by a company that forcibly breeds orcas through artificial insemination and tears orca calves from their mothers’ sides for transport to other parks.
SeaWorld’s claims that the captive orca families are not separated were once again shattered by former SeaWorld trainers, who recounted firsthand experiences seeing mothers and calves forcibly separated to suit Sea World’s business model.
“SeaWorld, as it has done again and again, referred today to those concerned with the well-being of the whales as ‘extreme activists,’ even saying that some are ‘masquerading as scientists.’ SeaWorld is cruelty and greed masquerading as conservation,” said Sea Shepherd Founder Captain Paul Watson. “SeaWorld said that they have the whales’ best interests at heart, but if that were the case, they would be focusing on rehabilitation and release of whales and other marine animals and not performing orca shows. The bottom line is that SeaWorld is concerned with only one thing, and that is their bottom line.”
It seems that members of the Coastal Commission would agree that there indeed should be changes made with the whales in mind. Though the Commission approved the expansion application, the approval came with conditions. The motion was passed with an amendment introduced by Commissioner Dayna Bochco, prohibiting the San Diego park from captive breeding and insemination and transferring of orcas to and from the park. The total number of orcas allowed at the park was also capped at 15. Bochco said that while she does not believe that SeaWorld wants the whales to suffer, “the whales are suffering because they do not belong in captivity.”
Though the permit was not denied, it was still a win for the whales as the Commission may have forced SeaWorld to begin to make significant changes to the way it operates, and sent a strong message that the public is only interested in an endeavor that will truly benefit the whales and not SeaWorld’s profits.
Sea Shepherd will continue to oppose cetacean captivity at SeaWorld and other facilities that hold whales and dolphins captive. SeaWorld, instead of building larger orca prisons, should change its business model to reflect the wishes and concerns of an evolving society — one that is interested in true animal care, rehabilitation and ocean conservation. Quite evident at the meeting, this is what the public increasingly demands, and it is nothing more than doing what – as SeaWorld says – is in the best interest of the whales.
There’s nothing “extreme” about that.