Committee sidelines SeaWorld killer whale ban

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SACRAMENTO — A bill aimed at ending killer-whale shows at SeaWorld San Diego was tabled for at least a year  by an Assembly committee Tuesday.

SeaWorld Killer Whales
Photo: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), chairman of the Parks, Water and Wildlife Committee, said the issue of killer whales in captivity is too complex to be decided after a hearing of less than two hours.

The chairman’s action, which did not require a vote, will keep the bill from coming up for a vote until at least mid-2015, Rendon said.

AB 2140 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) would prohibit orcas from being used for “performance or entertainment purposes” and require SeaWorld to return the orcas to the wild “where possible.” If that is deemed impossible, the orcas must be “transferred to a sea pen.”

SeaWorld San Diego has 10 orcas: four caught in the wild, six born in captivity. The Bloom bill would also prohibit the captive breeding of orcas or the transferring of them to SeaWorld parks in Florida and Texas.

The bill was sparked by the advocacy film “Blackfish,” shown in theaters and on CNN. The film asserts that the killer whales are mistreated in captivity by being kept in close confinement and notes the death of a SeaWorld employee in Florida in 2010, killed by an orca.

Kyle Kittleson, former SeaWorld trainer, called Bloom’s bill ridiculous and the idea of keeping whales in a sea pen can be detrimental.

“It is an obvious no, an obvious no,” said Kittleson. “When we have tried it in the past, the whales have died.”

He also said to shut the shows down would only hurt the whales.

“It would be like me saying to you ‘you know what? No more throwing the ball for your dog.’ That’s bad, your dog would miss that,” said Kittleson. “That’s such a stimulating, enriching component of their lives.”

He said Blackfish was large untrue, he points out trainers in the movie are now speaking out against the film.

“When they see it and they realize I don’t want to be represented like that, because it’s wrong,” said Kittleson. “It is not worth destroying the lives of these animals to promote your political career.  This isn’t about you Mr. Bloom.”

For now, the Shamu show will go on.  Kittleson said he is all for legislation to help the whales, but Bloom’s bill is nothing but political play.

San Diego’s tourism industry opposed the law because of the economic threat to SeaWorld if orca shows are banned. Although the park has many other attractions, the orca shows at Shamu Stadium have long been the marquee.

SeaWorld San Diego drew 4.4 million visitors last year, employs 4,500 workers during the peak tourism season, and pays more than $14 million in rent to the city.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the only member of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee from San Diego County, said Monday that she would support the bill. She said she rejects the economic arguments against the ban on orca shows and instead is concerned that if the shows are not ended “another employee will be hurt or killed by a distressed orca.”

Read more at latimes.com.

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