SANTA MONICA – Assemblyman Richard Bloom introduced a bill on March 7 that would make it illegal to use captive orcas for entertainment or performance-based purposes.
Bloom (D-Santa Monica) drafted what he is calling the “Orca Welfare & Safety Act,” according to a statement from his office. Citing a lack of state regulations that do not prohibit the performance display of orcas, Assemblyman Bloom stated that something must be done to better the lives of the captured sea mammals.
“There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes,” he said in a statement. “These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small concrete tanks for their entire lives.”
Neuroscientist Lori Marion of the Emory Center for Ethics said in a study from 2007 that killer whales, along with members of the Cetacea order of mammals which includes dolphins, “evince some of the most sophisticated cognitive abilities among all mammals and exhibit striking cognitive convergences with primates, including humans.”
Bloom’s legislation, according to the draft bill, would make it illegal to use orcas, either “wild-caught or captive-bred” for performance or entertainment purposes, which is defined in the bill as “any routinely scheduled public exhibition that is characterized by music or other sound effects, choreographed display or training for that display.”
In addition, it would also criminalize the breeding of orcas in captivity, the collection of orca sperm and gametes for artificial insemination and the capture of orcas from state waters for the sole purpose of entertainment or performance.
Violators could face a misdemeanor charge, along with a fine of $100,000 and up to six months in jail. Orcas held for rehabilitation following a rescue will not be subject to the bill, but they have to be released into the wild “whenever possible.” The draft language does not state what the timeline for release must be.
Spurred by the documentary film “Blackfish,” and the incident that it covered where an orca named Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, Bloom was able to find sponsors for the bill in former trainers John Hargrove and Samantha Berg, both of whom were featured in the 2013 film.
In open letter from December 2013 against allegations made by the film and others regarding its mistreatment of orcas, SeaWorld struck back against those claims, citing its own achievements in caring for the animals, such as the $70 million spent in creating habitats for killer whales at its parks.
A statement released by the company following the assemblyman’s announcement noted that not only is the legislation itself questionable under state and federal constitutional regulations, but that Assemblyman Bloom’s association with “well-known animal rights activists” casts the whole campaign in a dubious light.
“SeaWorld, one of the world’s most respected zoological institutions, already operates under multiple federal, state and local animal welfare laws,” said the company in the statement. “We are deeply committed to the health and well-being of all of our animals and killer whales are no exception.”
Assemblyman Bloom was blunt about his intention with the bill. “They simply do not belong in captivity,” said Bloom.
Meanwhile, SeaWorld filed a complaint with the office of the Inspector General in March 2014 alleging that Lara Padgett, an investigator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, had engaged in “unethical conduct” by giving “Blackfish” filmmakers confidential government documents during the filming of the documentary, according to CBS Miami. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of the film, denied these allegations.