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Federal bill calls for new rules for killer whales, others at SeaWorld

June 14, 2014 - 12:05am

SAN DIEGO — The political and scientific dispute over killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego and other marine parks is not over.

In April, a legislative committee in Sacramento tabled a bill that would have outlawed orca shows at SeaWorld. The bill, by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, was delayed indefinitely for additional study.

This week, two members of Congress from California successfully placed an amendment in the farm appropriation bill calling for an updating of federal regulations about keeping orcas and cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in captivity.

In California, only SeaWorld San Diego has orcas. Shows in Shamu Stadium are the marquee attraction at the park, a major tourist attraction and economic driver.

One argument against the California bill was that the responsibility to regulate the treatment of marine mammals would fall to the federal government, under the Animal Welfare Act, rather than the state.

The Animal Welfare Act regulations have not been updated in two decades, said California Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Jared Huffman.

“The American people want to see these regulations reviewed and updated to reflect the growing scientific and public concern about the effect of captivity on these animals,” Schiff and Huffman said in a joint statement.

In response to the Schiff-Huffman amendment, SeaWorld said it hopes “any effort to revise (federal) regulations is based on science and not the allegations of animal rights extremists. … SeaWorld parks already meet or exceed all government and professional accreditation standards for the care of marine mammals.”

The Schiff-Huffman amendment and the Bloom bill were in response to the documentary “Blackfish,” which asserts that orcas at SeaWorld are suffering.

Also this week, actress Jessica Biel submitted a statement to a SeaWorld shareholder meeting that said because of the “Blackfish” documentary, “the public now knows about the devastating effects of keeping orcas captive and confined at SeaWorld.”