Cetacean Anti-Captivity Legislation
Orcas are too intelligent, too wide-ranging, too socially complex, and simply too large to adjust to captivity in concrete tanks that are a tiny fraction the size of their natural home ranges. The compromised welfare of captive orcas is evidenced, among other things, by broken and worn down teeth from chewing on concrete walls and metal gates and collapsed dorsal fins. Orcas in captivity also experience higher mortality rates than in the wild, and are traumatized when family groups—which in nature stay together for life—are separated due to husbandry demands.
To bring an end to these animals' suffering, it is critical that the show must end.
The Orca Protection Act is a follow-up to California’s groundbreaking bill AB 2140, introduced in March 2014. The Orca Protection Act, AB 2305, was introduced in March 2016. Both bills were authored by Santa Monica Assemblymember Richard Bloom. The Orca Protection Act:
- Bans holding orcas in captivity for performance or entertainment purposes in California; and
- Ends captive breeding programs and the import/export of orcas and their genetic material into/out of the state.
At the April 12th hearing in 2016 for the Orca Protection Act, the California Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee passed the bill without opposition. The bill moved to the Senate, where it was renumbered AB 1453. The bill eventually passed as part of a budget trailer bill and was signed into law by Governor Brown in September. It became law in January 2017.
Senator Kevin Ranker and Senator Christine Rolfes of the Washington state legislature have introduced Senate Bill 5666, modeled after the California Orca Welfare and Safety Act. It will accomplish the same goals, but for all cetaceans, not just orcas:
- Ban holding cetaceans in captivity for performance or entertainment purposes in Washington;
- End captive breeding programs and the import/export of cetaceans and their genetic material into/out of the state;
- Allow for public access to observe retired cetaceans in a sea pen but not allow such cetaceans to be used for entertainment; and
- Regulate direct human contact with retired cetaceans to ensure caretaker safety while providing adequate care for the animals.
There are currently no captive cetaceans in the state of Washington – the last belugas were sent on an indefinite loan to another facility out of state some years ago. This bill would prevent any return of the captive display industry to the state. Senators Ranker and Rolfes want Washington to lead the country by passing the strongest possible welfare legislation related to captive cetaceans – the capture of orcas off Washington’s coast ended in 1976 and now the display of these magnificent but vulnerable animals will no longer be tolerated in the state if SB5666 passes.
A hearing on the bill was held in the Senate Committee of Natural Resources and Parks on February 5, 2015. It did not pass out of committee, but a companion bill, HB 2115, was introduced in the House. A hearing on the House bill was held on February 18, 2015, in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources. The bill was referred to the Rules Committee on February 20, but did not move to the House floor.
A new bill, HB 2888, was introduced (http://app.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=2888&year=2015) in the House of Representatives on January 25, 2016. A hearing was held February 2 before the House Committee of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the bill was submitted to the full House for a vote. The House passed HB 2888 with a vote of 64-33 on February 10, 2016. However, the chair of the relevant Senate committee would not schedule a hearing in the Senate. The short session ended with the bill stuck in the Senate. We will take this up again in 2017 – some bills take years to get through state legislatures, but we will keep working with our local contacts to make this happen.