New California Legislation Would ‘Free Willy’

Ethan Corey

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SeaWorld Entertainment has made millions attracting families to its marine parks in Florida, Texas and California by putting on marine shows featuring trained orca whales. But now, many are beginning to realize that capturing and displaying animals frequently referred to as "killer" whales might not be a brilliant idea. In 2010, for example, an orca trainer at SeaWorld’s Orlando park drowned after one of the animals dragged her underwater, prompting the acclaimed 2013 documentary Blackfish. Captive orcas aren't just more likely to display aggressive behavior; they also have significantly shorter lifespans and increased health problems. In light of this, California state legislator, Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), has introduced the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, which would prohibit orca shows and captive breeding of the whales with the end goal of eliminating killer whale captivity in California. USA Today reports: "There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes," Bloom said in the release. "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." As Bloom points out, captive orcas are confined to tanks less than one ten-thousandth the size of their habitats in the wild. They are also forced to perform abnormal behaviors in front of loud, cheering crowds -- devastating practices for the highly intelligent creatures. "They simply do not belong in captivity,” Bloom told ABC's Sacramento affiliate. SeaWorld has also reported a 6 to 7 percent drop in revenue this year as a result of decreased park admissions, which the company blames on a combination of bad publicity and the growing popularity of the Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios. Stockholders are jumping ship in response to the news, with shares sinking 33 percent on Wednesday, according to CNN Money. For their part, SeaWorld spokesperson David Koontz attacked Bloom for allegedly associating with “extreme animal rights activists” and claimed SeaWorld’s businesses practices were “responsible, sustainable and reflective of the balanced values all Americans share,” USA Today reports. Many of those Americans, it seems, are finding their entertainment elsewhere.

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Ethan Corey is a writer and researcher based in New York. His work has appeared in The Nation, Rolling Stone and MEL magazine.
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