SeaWorld abandoned its controversial killer whale breeding program back in 2016, but that was only a change in company policy; animal rights advocates are now pushing for laws to cement the decision.
State laws regarding the captivity of orcas are not unprecedented, as later in 2016 California passed legislation that banned breeding, performances, and the introduction of new killer whales into captivity. The Florida Orca Protection Act has now been drafted by Representative Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) in advance of the 2018 legislative session.
Diamond is limited to filing six bills per session, and he is currently unsure if the orca act will make the cut. Lindsay Larris, attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, thinks the matter is urgent given SeaWorld’s status as a publicly held company undergoing financial struggles, saying, “corporate policy can always change.”
While it might seem acceptable to take SeaWorld at their word regarding orca care, the Tampa Bay Times has cited evidence that the company may have recently acted contrary to their public position.
As of the March 2016 decision, the killer whales in SeaWorld’s possession were supposed to be the last born into captivity under their care. Last November, however, SeaWorld surrendered six orcas on the Spanish island of Tenerife that had been on loan to the zoo Loro Parque. This transfer was references in SeaWorld’s most recent financial report. Loro Parque’s president, Wolfgang Kiessling, had opposed the breeding ban.
The pregnancy of one of the six orcas surrendered, Morgan, was announced on December 5th with claims of an ultrasound confirmation four weeks earlier. The father was one of SeaWorld’s two original males at the zoo, said Javier Almunia, the director for environmental affairs of Loro Parque Foundation.
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, worked with SeaWorld to create the breeding ban and publicly announced the decision with them. Pacelle believes the transfer of the six orcas “”does appear to be a breach of this policy.” Pacelle said that, according to the policy, SeaWorld is responsible for the lifelong care of the whales in their custody, and surrendering them to someone “who has a very different vision for how to care for animals,” is a violation of that concept. Pacelle said,
“This was the biggest threat. I think the Loro Parque circumstance is a cautionary tale, and SeaWorld should be in the forefront of supporting (the Florida legislation). I think there’s a trust issue now.”
According to SeaWorld spokesperson Travis Claytor, the decision to transfer custody of the whales happened “before anyone knew their orca was pregnant.” The Tampa Bay Times said Claytor “declined to answer when Morgan was bred and when the transfer was effective, whether this was a breach of the March 2016 policy change, or whether SeaWorld would support the proposed Florida bill.”
Source: Tampa Bay Times