So Cal assemblyman’s bill would outlaw keeping orcas for entertainment
By André Coleman 03/20/2014
As promised, members of PETA — People for Ethical Treatment of Animals — used the arraignment date of one of its members arrested for interfering with a float during the Rose Parade to continue speaking out against SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas.
Meanwhile, a California legislator has authored a bill that would make it illegal to hold orcas in restrictive captivity for entertainment purposes.
On March 13, Amanda Slyter pleaded not guilty to one count of interfering with a special event. The infraction carried a $200 fine. Slyter is the first of 15 members of the group to appear in court for attempting to block a heavily guarded Rose Parade float depicting the animals living happily at SeaWorld. The defendants are being arraigned over the next month.
She will return to court in April and invoke a little known common-law defense called “necessity,” also known as the “greater good defense.”
“It means she violated a lesser law in order to right a great wrong — in this case the cruel capture and lifetime confinement of orcas in SeaWorld’s tiny concrete tanks,” said PETA Senior Media Coordinator David Perle.
Last Thursday, 24 PETA members gathered in front of the Los Angeles County Courthouse on Walnut Street with signs denouncing the park.
PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange — who is also a defendant in the case — told the Pasadena Weekly last month that the group would use the court dates to continue protesting SeaWorld’s treatment of the animals.
“We’re definitely strategizing,” said Lange. “We had a great response. The campaign against SeaWorld has not let up. Their stock dropped 7 percent last week after new legislation was introduced that would ban them from keeping orcas in captivity. They have been taking one hit after another, after another. Our campaign will stay hot.”
The Orca Safety and Welfare Act authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) would eliminate performance-based entertainment and captive breeding of orcas.
The bill would also end the import and export of the animals in and out of California and require that all current orcas in captivity be retired to sea pens. The animals already in captivity could be displayed at water parks, but human interaction would be limited for safety reasons.
According to a fact sheet on Bloom’s Assembly Bill 2140, there are currently no laws prohibiting the display of these animals. However, the Federal Animal Welfare Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act does govern their care. Since 1963, 14 orcas have died in captivity. Twelve of these animals were captured in the wild and two were born in captivity. There are currently 10 captive orcas in California, three of them born in captivity.
“There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes,” Bloom said during a March 6 press conference announcing the bill. “These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives. It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement.”
Bloom was joined by Naomi Rose, PhD, marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, and two former SeaWorld orca trainers, John Hargrove and Carol Ray, and Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of the documentary “Blackfish.” Cowperthwaite’s film is largely credited with exposing inhumane treatment of orcas, a claim SeaWorld has vehemently denied.
In a written statement, SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz criticized Bloom for associating with “extreme animal rights activists.”
“Included in the group are some of the same activists that partnered with PETA in bringing the meritless claim that animals in human care should be considered slaves under the 13th amendment of the US Constitution — a clear publicity stunt,” Koontz wrote. “This legislation appears to reflect the same sort of out-of-the-mainstream thinking.”
PETA members say they are elated about Bloom’s legislation.
“It’s great and it’s thorough,” said Lange. “It left nothing to the imagination as far as SeaWorld being an animal abuse corporation. We would love to see it pass and hope it does.”
According to Bloom, the legislation was inspired by Cowperthwaite’s documentary which has resulted in nationwide criticism of SeaWorld.
The film follows the case of Tilikum, a 2- or 3-year-old killer whale that was allegedly physically abused by SeaWorld trainers after being caught in 1983 and placed in cramped quarters at the British Columbia Sealand of the Pacific entertainment park. In 1991, three orcas killed a trainer. According to the documentary, Tilikum wasn’t the instigator of the attack, but he did participate in it. The park closed shortly after the incident and SeaWorld Orlando acquired Tilikum.
In 1999, Daniel Dukes, a visitor to the park, evaded security and was able to spend a night in SeaWorld Orlando. He entered Tilikum’s tank at some time during the night and was found dead the next morning. In 2010, trainer Dawn Brancheau was dragged into the tank and drowned by Tilikum, which pulled her under water either by her ponytail or her arm.
Since the documentary’s release, several musical acts have canceled appearances at the theme park in Orlando, including The Beach Boys, Pat Benatar, Trace Adkins, Trisha Yearwood, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, Heart, Barenaked Ladies, Martina McBride and .38 Special. Several school districts also announced they would no longer allow field trips to the venue.
Shortly after the controversy sparked by “Blackfish” began, it was revealed that SeaWorld would have its first float in the Rose Parade. Unlike the film, the float depicted the orcas happily living in captivity. PETA members tried several times to reach out to the Tournament of Roses regarding the float but were ignored, leading to the protest at the parade and the arrests.
Charges against then-12 year old Rose McCoy who traveled with her mother from New York City to protest the float, have been dropped, according to Lange, PETA members also protested against an Orca balloon appearing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.