SeaWorld Entertainment plans to fight a California state agency’s recent decision to ban the breeding of captive orcas in the SeaWorld San Diego amusement park.
The California Coastal Commission imposed the ban on Oct. 8, after it approved SeaWorld’s $100 million orca tank expansion plan.
SeaWorld Entertainment issued a statement Thursday saying it plans to “pursue legal action” against the commission.
"It simply defies common sense that a straightforward land-use permit approval would turn into a ban on animal husbandry practices,” said Joel Manby, president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, parent company of the SeaWorld amusement part. “To say that this is a dubious decision with no legal basis is an understatement, which is why we must and will challenge the Commission's decision.”
SeaWorld Entertainment did not specify in the statement what kind of legal action the company would take. David Koontz, communications director for the company, said he was unable to provide more information as legal action is planned.
Noaki Schwartz, a spokesperson for the coastal commission, told Al Jazeera that because the commission had not seen a complaint, it has no comment.
Dayna Bochco, an attorney and vice chair of the commission, published an op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday, defending the decision to ban captive breeding.
“The commission is not pre-empted by any federal law, and no other state agency is addressing issues related to captive whales,” Bochco wrote. “Last week the commission determined that orcas are a marine resource and a species of special biological significance deserving of Coastal Act protections, whether captive or free.”
The practice of keeping orcas in captivity has come under intense public scrutiny in the United States since the release of the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish,” which chronicled the killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau by an orca named Tilikum that allegedly experienced stress in captivity at SeaWorld.
Animal rights groups welcomed the announcement of the California ban. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the coastal commission’s authority over wild orcas along the state’s coastal zone extends to the captive ones at SeaWorld.
“Although the Coastal Act focuses on protecting open spaces and wildlife in their native state, it contains no limiting language that excludes captive wildlife,” said Jared Goodman, PETA foundation director of animal law, in a statement.