SeaWorld is suing California regulators over a proposed orca breeding ban

SeaWorld’s lawyers are doubling down for another fight over killer whales.
SeaWorld’s lawyers are doubling down for another fight over killer whales.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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Last week, a regulatory agency in California said SeaWorld San Diego would only be allowed to begin a major construction project if it agreed to stop breeding or acquiring killer whales—effectively putting an expiration date on the marine park’s main attraction. SeaWorld called the move an “overreach” and now says it intends to sue the California Coastal Commission.

The commission, whose permission is needed for SeaWorld San Diego to expand a $100 million orca habitatvoted in favor of the expansion on Oct. 9 but made it conditional on no future breeding or animal transfers. That would mean the 11 orcas the park has now would be its last, and after they’ve all died or retired, it would be the end of SeaWorld San Diego’s “Shamu” shows.

It was a clever way for the commission, which was charged with evaluating the park’s habitat expansion on its merits as a construction project and its impact on the land, to achieve something local and global activists have been pressing for since 2013, when the movie “Blackfish” turned public opinion against SeaWorld. The park’s orca shows are at the core of its existence.

In a statement released yesterday (Oct. 15), SeaWorld president and CEO Joel Manby said: “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…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.”