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California Congressmen Propose Legislation To Update Federal Rules On Captive Orcas

Ulises, a killer whale at SeaWorld San Diego, is seen in his tank on July 19, 2010.

Legislation aimed at updating federal rules on captive orcas, like those kept at SeaWorld San Diego, was attached Thursday to the agriculture appropriations bill being considered in the House of Representatives, two congressmen said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said their amendment was accepted unanimously.

The amendment would direct the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture that regulates animal captivity, sales and exhibition, to update and finalize captive marine mammal regulations.

"For almost 20 years, USDA has failed to review and update the Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive orcas and other marine mammals,'' the congressmen said in a joint statement. "These rules certainly should have been revised in light of new data twelve years ago when USDA opened up the rule-making process.''

They said the USDA sought public comment in 2002 on updating standards for indoor and outdoor facilities, water quality, space requirements, and swim-with-the-dolphin programs. Numerous comments were received from the animal exhibitor industry, animal welfare groups, the scientific community, and the general public, recommending changes to tank sizes and otherwise improving facilities for marine mammals, but new regulations were never adopted.

"Unfortunately, they dropped the ball — so it's time to try again,'' Schiff and Huffman said in their statement. "Our amendment reminds USDA that inaction is unacceptable — the American people want to see these regulations reviewed and updated to reflect the growing scientific and public concern about the effect of captivity on these animals.''

Concern over the condition of orcas — also known as killer whales — in captivity was raised several months ago by a controversial documentary that was given widespread attention. SeaWorld, which also operates parks in Orlando and San Antonio, contends that its marine mammals are not mistreated.

A statement from SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment in response to the legislation said the amendment would provide $1 million to the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.

"While we're still examining the intent of the amendment, one must question whether it is the best use of taxpayer funds to spend $1 million to underwrite studies on marine mammals in zoological settings when peer-reviewed scientific studies on this subject already exist,'' the statement said.

Earlier this year, state legislation to ban orca shows in California was introduced, but later shelved.

Comments

Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 12, 2014 at 9:30 a.m. ― 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Don't these idiots have anything better to do?

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Avatar for user 'progressivebuthey'

progressivebuthey | June 12, 2014 at 12:12 p.m. ― 1 month, 2 weeks ago

dept of ag --- the same understaffed government department assigned to monitor puppy mills in the Midwest or south where 5000 animals can be warehoused at one time, never to be touched, named and live in a cage the size of a washing machine (per regs) ---- this country is as bad as china and we're so arrogant to think we're better than the inhumane countries out there.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | June 12, 2014 at 3:01 p.m. ― 1 month, 2 weeks ago

I'm skeptical of this.

Research has already been done, and orcas should not be held captive and should not be forced to perform circus acts.

The bill that was "shelved" is something legislatures should be taking-up on a national level, not "regulations" that will probably just be a guise for SeaWorld to legitimize their prison camps.

I know how these measures work.

SeaWorld will throw their dirty money made from exploiting these animals into lobbyists who will infiltrate the process and arrange back-room deals for these "regulations" so they won't compromise their profits (which is, of course, SeaWorld's first and foremost priority).

Think about it:

SeaWorld pays-off some Congress people, gets "regulations" passed and then they can close the book on the debate by claiming "we comply fully USDA "regulations" "

I say No Way!

There are no regulations to be had.

These animals should NOT be held in captivity to be circus shows.

The ones currently imprisoned at SeaWorld's prison work camp should be retired immediately to Sea Pens where they can live out their lives in peace.

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Avatar for user 'twells'

twells | June 12, 2014 at 3:32 p.m. ― 1 month, 2 weeks ago

@ Peking_Duck_SD: Did you happen to attend the debate on this very subject last week at the museum of contemporary art?

If not, there was a lot of similar accusations made to what you are saying without a lot of scientific data to back them up. I know it is in vogue to portray SeaWorld as this evil entity that runs prison camps, but the truth is not quite so glamorous.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 12, 2014 at 3:37 p.m. ― 1 month, 2 weeks ago

They are just animals... calm down buddy.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | June 12, 2014 at 3:50 p.m. ― 1 month, 2 weeks ago

@twells, the research and facts are there, you just refuse to look at them,

(1) Wild orcas have an average life expectancy of 30 to 50 years, with a maximum lifespan is 60 to 70 years for males and 80 to over 100 for females. SeaWorld's orcas have a median age of 9 and orcas in captivity rarely even make it to the bottom of the lower-end of the life expectancy of their wild coutnerparts

(2) ALL male orcas at SeaWorld have a collapsed dorsal fin, and SeaWorld propagandists tell their circus patrons this is "normal" when, if fact, it rarely occurs in the wild and is a symptom of injury

(3) In the wild orcas swim up to 100 miles a day, tell me how it's healthy for an animal that is instinctually and physically made to swim such diatnaces in the open ocean to live a healthy life in the small pools at SeaWorld's prison camps?

(4) Orcas in captivity gnaw at iron bars and concrete from stress, anxiety, and boredom, sometimes breaking their teeth

Those are just a few of the "facts" that you choose to ignore.

Look at what experts like Dr. Naomi Rose, a scientist who has studies orcas in both the wild and captivity have to say on the issue.

You can play this game of ignorance, but most people are not stupid.

They know what SeaWorld does to these animals damages them mentally and physically.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | June 12, 2014 at 3:54 p.m. ― 1 month, 2 weeks ago

As much as I disagree with Jean, at least he he honest.

He thinks it doesn't matter if animals are tortured in order to provide human beings amusement.

SeaWorld should be so honest.

They not only profit off of exploiting these animals, they then spend a chunk of their circus-profits trying to make themselves out to be an organization that actually cares for animals.

The throw some chump-change at some good programs they have - like rescuing injured sea animals locally - but they then take this noble aspect of their business and use that as propaganda too to justify what they do to the orcas.

It's disgusting.

SeaWorld needs to either amend their business model or close down.

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Avatar for user 'twells'

twells | June 13, 2014 at 11:35 a.m. ― 1 month, 2 weeks ago

@ Peking_Duck: It is hard to debate someone who has forgone conclusions regarding a situation and resorts to defaming character. I will try.

I have not made up my mind regarding orcas in captivity, but the points you brought up were addressed and the con side did not have any good rebuttals.

1). I will concede the point that animals in captivity do not reach the full potential lifespan of animals in the wild. However, they have a better survival rate year to year. Average lifespan comparisons do not take this into account, as they do not take into account the skewed animal mortality at the beginning of life. The wild ocean is a dangerous environment, especially for young animals.

2). It was explained that orcas at SeaWorld spend more time at the surface than orcas in the wild. The dorsal fin does not have any bone to keep it vertical, and gravity is not counteracted by water pressure, so the dorsal fins sag over time. While not an ideal condition, it appears to not be an indication of injury. It also appears to be a plausible explanation. The "this is an injury" side did not have anything specific to counteract this other than "it does not happen often in the wild, so therefore it must be an injury." Correlation does not equal causation.

3). It is a given that they cannot swim 100 miles per day. You are also making the assumption that these animals have no means to adapt to their current environment. They also wont starve.

4) I have no information on this so cannot comment on it.

Unfortunately, what was not discussed by either side was the disposition of Tilikum - I would like to have heard discussion on that.

I am not ignoring facts - I am investigating them, weighing the validity of each claim, and (eventually) making up my mind on where I stand on orcas captivity.

What I am not doing is letting heightened emotional observations without good scientific back-up dictate my decision, or assigning assumed negative characteristics to those on the other side of this debate.

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