Landmark Legislation Introduced in California to Ban Orca Captivity

Santa Monica, CA—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) applauds California Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) for his introduction today of a bill (AB 2140) to end orca captivity in California. The Orca Welfare and Safety Act, as the bill is called, is the first of its kind in the United States and would prohibit the public display of orcas (a.k.a. killer whales) in the state and retire those currently in captivity in California to less stressful lives in sea pens.

Naomi Rose, Ph.D., marine mammal scientist with AWI; Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of Blackfish, the critically acclaimed documentary on orca captivity; and two former SeaWorld orca trainers, John Hargrove and Carol Ray, joined Assemblymember Bloom at the press conference on the Santa Monica Pier to announce his introduction of the bill.

“My experience studying orcas in the wild has led me to conclude that the welfare of these intelligent, wide-ranging, socially complex animals cannot be adequately protected when confined for a lifetime in small, shallow tanks,” says Dr. Rose. “Typical orca enclosures are less than one ten-thousandth of one percent the size of the species’ natural home range.”

Public awareness concerning the problems associated with orca captivity has blossomed since the airing of Blackfish (in theaters and multiple times on the CNN network) and publication of the book Death at SeaWorld, by David Kirby. Both of these chronicle the story of Tilikum, a captive orca who in 2010 killed his long-time trainer, Dawn Brancheau, after killing two other people in separate earlier instances. Captured off the east coast of Iceland and ripped from his family when he was around two years old, Tilikum has spent more than three decades in captivity.

Although Tilikum has led a troubled life, he is considered a survivor among his captive kin—whose lives are all too often cut short in confinement. The annual mortality rate of captive orcas is 3–4 times higher than that of a well-studied wild population in the Pacific Northwest. In California alone, more than half of all the orcas ever held at SeaWorld in San Diego have died, long before they reached what would be, in the wild, no more than middle-age. In the wild, 30 is the mean life expectancy for male orcas; for females it is 50—with some reaching 90 years of age.

Cathy Liss, president of AWI, says “We are extremely grateful for Assemblymember Bloom’s leadership on this critical animal welfare issue. Today we take the first step toward ending the global exploitation of a species that was never suited to live within concrete walls.”