SAN DIEGO, Oct. 9 (UPI) — The California Coastal Commission banned captive orca breeding at SeaWorld San Diego and drastically restricted the movement of whales in and out of the park, effectively putting an end to the park’s signature attraction.
The state panel, which has authority over construction projects on the state’s coast, approved the park’s $100 million expansion project that will double the size of its killer whale habitat despite pleas from animal activists. As part of the deal, though, the panel decided SeaWorld cannot breed any of its 11 orcas in captivity in California.
The loss of the killer whale breeding program is a huge blow to the park since orcas are a top attraction.
SeaWorld argued the expansion will enhance the habitat for the whales and expand research opportunities.
“We are disappointed with the conditions that the California Coastal Commission placed on their approval of the Blue World Project and will carefully review and consider our options,” the park said in a statement after the vote. “Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal’s life, and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane.”
SeaWorld has come under intense scrutiny since the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which demonstrated the conditions orcas live under in the park. The film focused on Tilikum, a 12,000-pound orca at the park’s Florida location, and the death of trainer Dawn Bracheau in 2010.
Animal rights groups praised the commission’s vote, calling SeaWorld a “sea circus.”
“SeaWorld has admitted that it intended to breed even more orcas to fill the new tanks, but the commission’s action today ensures that no more orcas will be condemned to a nonlife of loneliness, deprivation, and misery,” PETA Foundation Director of Animal Law Jared Goodman said. “SeaWorld is a sea circus, and the orcas are its abused elephants.”