New bill aims to phase out public displays of captive killer whales

Visitors watch an orca performance at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.
Visitors watch an orca performance at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.
milanboers/flickr Creative Commons

California Rep. Adam Schiff plans to introduce a bill that would phase out the public display of captive killer whales in the U.S. House, his office said Friday.

The move follows several other local efforts to impose new regulations on the capture and containment of the animals, and increased scrutiny of SeaWorld and other organizations that house orcas.

"There is a growing body of scientific evidence that it is deeply harmful to orcas to be kept in captivity," Schiff told KPCC. "These are magnificent animals that can often roam up to 100 miles in a day or routinely go to depths of 300 feet or more and there's just no way to keep them in a small tank without deeply injuring these magnificent creatures."

The bill, called the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act, would include:

"We think it's time not just to update the regulation when it comes to orcas," Schiff said, "but put an end to orcas in captivity."

The last time an orca was captured in U.S. waters was in 1976. Orcas haven't been imported from other parts of the world since 2001, but permits for their capture can still be legally issued, and other captive orcas have been bred in captivity, Schiff's office said.

"As a former Marine Mammal Trainer at SeaWorld, I saw firsthand how orcas suffer in captivity," former marine mammal trainer Samantha Berg said in a press release. "No amount of toys, larger tanks, better veterinary care or love and attention from their trainers will ever come close to simulating the richness of their lives in the ocean."

Last month the California Coastal Commission already banned breeding orcas in captivity living at SeaWorld in San Diego.

"[Orcas] are simply too large, too wide-ranging, too socially complex, and too intelligent to thrive in any-sized concrete enclosure," said Animal Welfare Institute marine mammal scientist Dr. Naomi Rose in a press release.

The bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The United States Department of Agriculture is also considering updating federal regulations on marine mammals in captivity.

"I think this pressure at the federal level coupled with efforts by Assemblymember Bloom at the state level and the recent action of the California Coastal Commission all pushing in the same direction will ultimately yield the future where we don't see Orcas in captivity," Schiff said, adding that "we [will] see them the way they're meant to be seen, and that is in the wild."

The AP reports that SeaWorld says its whales are thriving and the parks foster understanding of the animals.

You can read the full text of the proposed bill below: 


This story has been updated.