Legislation to Phase Out Public Display of Captive Whales Introduced in Congress

A beluga whale looks out from an aquarium tank
Photo by Kuremo

Bill would prohibit breeding, wild capture, import and export of four whale species

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) applauds Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) for introducing the Strengthening Welfare in Marine Settings (SWIMS) Act today. This legislation would phase out the captive display of orcas (also known as killer whales), beluga whales, pilot whales, and false killer whales. Specifically, it would prohibit the breeding, taking (wild capture), and import and export of these species for the purposes of public display, but would not prohibit the continued holding of animals currently in captivity, thus allowing marine theme parks and aquariums time to transition to a more humane future. 

“The science on these larger species strongly indicates that display facilities cannot provide enough space for them,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, AWI’s marine mammal scientist. “These whales are simply too large and too wide-ranging for the concrete enclosures in which they are confined.”

The current global population of captive whales has two sources—wild capture and captive breeding programs. Historically, US display facilities received permits from the federal government to capture whales or import wild-caught whales. While a wild capture of a whale has not occurred in US waters since the 1970s, and wild-caught whales from other parts of the world have not been imported for 30 years, US law still allows permits to be issued. These practices would be prohibited under the SWIMS Act.

In a separate action in November, Schiff, Huffman, DelBene, and Feinstein led 31 colleagues in urging the US Department of Agriculture to take immediate steps to update decades-old handling and care standards for captive marine mammals to reflect the latest science. Updated standards may improve the welfare of smaller, more adaptable marine mammals; however, no amount of regulatory reform can ensure that whales thrive in captivity. 

A fact sheet on the SWIMS Act is available here.

Media Contact Information

Margie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
[email protected], (202) 446-2128

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywherein the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.