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SeaWorld To Challenge Coastal Commission’s Ban On Orca Breeding

Photo caption: A baby killer whale swims with another whale at SeaWorld San Diego, Feb. 14, ...

Photo credit: Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego

A baby killer whale swims with another whale at SeaWorld San Diego, Feb. 14, 2013.

SeaWorld Entertainment Thursday announced that it will challenge the California Coastal Commission, which last week issued a ruling that would end the breeding of captive killer whales at its San Diego theme park.

The commission's order was a condition to its approval of a permit to allow SeaWorld San Diego to expand its orca tanks. Not being able to breed its orcas would eventually result in the end of the park's "Shamu" killer whale shows.

The condition handed animal rights advocates a major victory, but in its announcement that it would bring legal action, SeaWorld called the action "overreaching." The company contends that animal welfare is governed by federal and state laws that do not fall within the jurisdiction of the commission.

"As a regulatory board charged with managing coastal development and related land-use decisions, the Coastal Commission went way beyond its jurisdiction and authority when it banned breeding by killer whales at SeaWorld," said Joel Manby, president and CEO of Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment.

"By imposing broad new jurisdiction over all future SeaWorld marine animal projects, as well as aquarium projects elsewhere in the state, the commission has overstepped both federal and California law," Manby said. "It simply defies common sense that a straightforward land-use permit approval would turn into a ban on animal husbandry practices — an area in which the commissioners have no education, training or expertise."

PETA Director of Animal Law Jared Goodman accused SeaWorld officials of "blowing smoke."

"The California Coastal Commission acted fully within its authority when, as a condition of its approval of building new tanks, it placed a ban on breeding orcas," Goodman said. " The (commission's) jurisdiction over marine mammals is expansive. Although the Coastal Act focuses on protecting open spaces and wildlife in their native state, it contains no limiting language that excludes captive wildlife.

"The legislature required the Commission to protect all resources that exist within the coastal zone, as the orcas at SeaWorld plainly do," Goodman said. "Just as the commission still controls natural spaces that have been spoiled, it retains jurisdiction over wild orcas, whether captured or captive born."

SeaWorld officials had agreed earlier not to increase its orca population except through occasional captive births or rescues authorized by government agencies. Park officials said they have not captured orcas in the wild for decades. SeaWorld also pledged that the facility would not house any orcas taken from the wild after Feb. 12, 2014, nor utilize killer whale genetic material taken from the wild after the same date.

Executives at the theme park on Mission Bay want to build two orca pools, one filled with 5.2 million gallons of water and the other with a capacity of 450,000 gallons, to replace the current 1.7 million gallon tank.

The project also would include replacing bathroom facilities for visitors.

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