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California Congressmen Propose Legislation To Update Federal Rules On Captive Orcas

Photo caption:

Photo by Rojer via Compfight

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.

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