California Coastal Commission approves new SeaWorld orca habitat, prohibits breeding, legal challenge possible (updated)

Posted Monday, October 12, 2015 8:13 AM | Contributed by janfrederick

The California Coastal Commission approved a $100 million expansion of the tanks SeaWorld uses to hold killer whales in San Diego — but it banned breeding of the captive orcas that would live in them.

Read more from KGTV/San Diego.

UPDATE (2:21 pm ET): There is a good chance that the authority of the commission may be called into question. Read more from The LA Times.

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Monday, October 12, 2015 8:15 AM
Jeff's avatar

So let me get this straight. Is someone supposed to stand guard and make sure that the whales never get busy? I don't even know how you enforce something like that.

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Monday, October 12, 2015 8:38 AM

Well, they can never put females and males in the same area together. That's how zoos prevent breeding. It's not unusual for some animals to have no interest in breeding, so if you have a female and male that won't do the deed, they could be in the same area. I'm assuming that orcas are treated like other animals in that they don't want parents to breed with their offspring, so there's likely already some protocols for separating some females and males.

Monday, October 12, 2015 9:03 AM

How much of orca breeding at SeaWorld is natural? I was under the impression most of it was artificial (like it is with elephants for the most part). Honestly long-term they probably should look at phasing orcas out of the parks, I don't think it's sustainable long-term.

The part of the ruling that bothers me more than the breeding (and a lot of people are not talking about) is the transportation of the whales in and out of the park. From what I understand, it cannot be done under any circumstances. What if a whale has a medical issue where it needs to be moved to another park? What if, in many years, there is only one whale left at San Diego? It should just stay there, be alone, and die instead of being transported to another park? That just doesn't make sense.

Last edited by jglonek83, Monday, October 12, 2015 9:04 AM
Monday, October 12, 2015 9:43 AM
Jeff's avatar

Yeah, that bothers me too. And in fact, if many years from now, the herd has thinned, is it any less cruel to let the animals get lonely? It's stupid all around.

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Monday, October 12, 2015 10:54 AM

It's been pointed out that this ruling is illegal, as the Coastal Commission does not have jurisdiction when it comes to the orcas themselves. That's a Federal matter. The only thing that the commission can rule on is land use matters. The odds of Seaworld taking this to Federal court is very, very good.

Monday, October 12, 2015 11:12 AM
Jason Hammond's avatar

I too was wondering how much of the breeding was natural vs. artificial. While (unseccessfully) trying to figure it out, I came across these pages. Neither one seems to address natural vs artificial, so at this point, I'm assuming it's mostly, if not all, artificial. For clarification, I'm for the breeding program.

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Monday, October 12, 2015 11:36 AM

Dutchman said:

The odds of Seaworld taking this to Federal court is very, very good.

Or SeaWorld they should just ignore that part of the ruling since it is beyond the scope of their duties. Why does SeaWorld have to sue them? I would build it and then let nature take it's course. The CCC can sue the whales.

The California Coastal Commission is out-of-control. Has been for decades. This is a disgusting example of personal agendas getting mixed in with their roles.

Monday, October 12, 2015 2:20 PM
Jeff's avatar

I've never heard of the commission, but from what I've read about its statutory authority, it's essentially a planning and zoning authority. I don't see how they have any jurisdiction over the animals.

And then this about the legal position from the LA Times (I updated the story):

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

Monday, October 12, 2015 4:01 PM

From the LA Times article above:

"Among those urging the commission to stop SeaWorld from allowing its orcas to reproduce was Sara Wan, former Coastal Commission chair and now with the Animal Legal Defense Fund."

Big problem we have today is the revolving door between being a lobbyist and politician/government executive. Huge conflict of interest.

I don't know if the Commission has jurisdiction over the orcas. But I do know I trust neither SeaWorld nor any animal rights group on the issue.

Monday, October 12, 2015 4:12 PM

Marineland in Canada also is hung up in the same bureaucracy in theory. Kiska is their last Orca, and they are not allowed to bring in another to breed, and she is alone. They tried with a loaner whale from Sea World Orlando, and was unsuccessful in the "allotted time", and long story short tried to keep the whale longer, but Sea World got a court order and had to go pick him up.

Now Ontario is attempting to pass a law prohibiting capturing/importing Orcas, and Kiska is still all alone after her parental units passed on. Obviously Marineland is the only marine-life park in Ontario.

Sad thing about most of this is there is a huge difference between the 'old Sea World' and the current Sea World and how marine animals are bred. Sea World is sort of stuck now on paper with a diluted gene pool and it will get worse in the future as not all births survive even today at their facilities.

I love California, but they want to tell you what to do and how to do it 24/7. And correct, how to you tell a whale after a long busy summer to smoke 'em if you got 'em, but stay on your side of the tank?

Monday, October 12, 2015 7:16 PM
Jeff's avatar

Remember, Blackfish isn't bull**** just because SeaWorld says so, it's bull**** because real journalists have completely destroyed the credibility of all the people in that "documentary." It was also shameless exploitation of Dawn Brancheau's death.

I'll admit, I'm biased because I worked for the company for a year as a contractor. I can assure you the corporate office has no one smoking cigars, counting their money and wearing top hats, whilst dreaming up ways to make whales suffer for entertainment.

If you think that having captive animals is immoral, that's fine. That doesn't even remotely mean that the animals aren't being cared for at the highest level, or that the level of care is at odds with being a for-profit business.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 10:54 AM
ApolloAndy's avatar

Jeff said:

So let me get this straight. Is someone supposed to stand guard and make sure that the whales never get busy? I don't even know how you enforce something like that.

Shame them. "Why would he buy the manatee (aka sea cow) when he can get the milk for free?"

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Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 11:25 AM

Captive animals is a 50/50 tradeoff. They don't have their freedom, but in general they are given care that they wouldn't receive in the wild and live longer lives. Marineland in Florida had a 60 year old dolphin and others in their 40s.

If they are pack animals, they should be allowed to be with other animals of their kind though.

Performing animals are another issue. Some docile animals can be trained and enjoy the rewards. However, the Sea World incident with the Orcas proves that these huge animals cannot be entirely trusted in a performing situation. I personally have no desire to see an Orca perform after what happened there. That was absolutely horrifying.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 12:33 PM
Jeff's avatar

Can you elaborate?

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 9:11 PM

LA Times article indicates that the San Diego newspaper believes the Commission exceeded its jurisdiction. SeaWorld's attorney is quoted in the article as having the same position. Both are biased. May ultimately be correct but as likely they are just advancing their own interests without any regard to the legal position being taken (same is true of animal rights folks championing the Commission's decision).

There may well be precedence for what the Commission did. Or precedence which is contrary. Or there may not be much out there at all either directly or indirectly on point.

Presumably SeaWorld will either challenge the order or ignore the no-breeding condition and wait for the Commission to bring some type of action against SeaWorld for violating the no-breeding condition. Latter approach may well be a big risk to take when you look at the condition as being needed to have approval to build the new tanks. If the condition isn't satisfied, they run the risk of having tanks with no permit/approval. They could always stop breeding if a court rules in favor of the Commission's jurisdiction at whatever point down the road. At that point presumably the condition would be satisfied and the approval for the new tanks would be valid. Not sure though if SeaWorld would want to go forward with the project without the ability to breed.

If someone believes keeping animals in captivity is immoral, how important is the level of care? I wouldn't expect someone who views keeping animals in captivity as immoral as being acceptable if the level if care is viewed on some level as being very good. And if you are advocating to end what you view as immoral, I expect that you will make your case as strongly as you can. Maybe thats just the reality of my work world.


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