UPDATE: California Coastal Commission Approves SeaWorld's Expansion of Tanks, with Conditions at Long Beach Meeting


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UPDATE | The California Coastal Commission decided at their meeting in Long Beach yesterday to deny SeaWorld San Diego the right to breed its orca whale population, while approving the organization’s right to expand its orca tanks.

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The decision was seen as a victory to animal rights activists, many of whom protested the park’s treatment of whales outside the steps of the meeting at the Long Beach Convention Center yesterday. Protesters had included celebrity Pamela Anderson.

Previously, SeaWorld officials had agreed upon not increasing its orca population except through captive births, asserting they have not captured animals in the wild for decades.

“We are disappointed with the conditions that the California Coastal Commission placed on their approval of the Blue World Project, and will carefully review and consider our options,'' said Seaworld San Diego President John Reilly. “Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal's life and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane.''

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) described the decision as ultimating ending “captivity for long-suffering orcas in California.”

“SeaWorld admitted it intended to breed more to fill new tanks,'' PETA officials stated. “But the commission's action today ensures that no more orcas will be condemned to a non-life of loneliness, deprivation and misery.”

Meanwhile, researchers said the decision to allow the park to expand its water tanks (one to be filled with 5.2 million gallons of water and the other with 450,000 gallons), replacing the current 1.7 million-gallon tank, will help researchers learn more about ways to help killer whales.

The commission staff had advised approval of the tank expansion after park officials promised the condition the park would not house orcas taken from the wild after February 12, 2014 and not use genetic material taken from the wild after that date.

City News Service contributed to this report.

PREVIOUSLY: Public Hearing in Long Beach on SeaWorld Orca Tank Expansion Sparks Protests

10/08/2015 at 5:07PM | A public hearing to approve or deny a controversial plan by SeaWorld San Diego to expand its killer whale tanks took place Thursday in Long Beach by the California Coastal Commission. While commission staff have recommended approval, the plan has sparked objections from animal rights activists.

SeaWorld executives want to build two orca pools, one to be filled with 5.2 million gallons of water and the other with a capacity of 450,000 gallons in order to replace the current 1.7 million-gallon tank. The project would also include replacing bathroom facilities for visitors.

Animal rights groups that have been trying for years to get orcas released into the wild are arguing that while they may have more space to swim in these larger tanks, the social animal will still be captive.

The hearing before the Coastal Commission was moved to the Long Beach Convention Center to accommodate a crowd of over 600 attendees for and against the proposal.

According to a CNN report, which quoted attending actress Pamela Anderson, saying, “No whale is happy in a bathtub,” this is the biggest issue the Coastal Commission has faced in its 40-year history.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) supporters attended the meeting in Long Beach to urge commissioners to vote the project down, and tweeted Anderson speaking out about SeaWorld. 

“SeaWorld's tanks, regardless of size, deny these highly intelligent animals the social bonds, open space, freedom, and stimulation that they would have in their natural ocean homes," said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman in a statement. “PETA is calling on the California Coastal Commission to vote down SeaWorld's Blue World Project, because what these orcas need is to be released into a seaside sanctuary, not a rebranded prison.''

Dr. Paul Ponganis, a research physiologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said last week that the project will result in new opportunities for researchers to conduct studies that will benefit killer whales and other cetaceans in the wild.

The commission staff recommended approval after SeaWorld officials pledged that the facility will not house any orcas taken from the wild after Feb. 12, 2014, nor will it use killer whale genetic material taken from the wild after the aforementioned date.

The marine park also agreed to not increase its orca population except through occasional captive births or rescues authorized by government agencies.

The project is supported by the national and state associations of zoos and aquariums, some veterinarians and researchers and a bipartisan group of local elected officials, according to SeaWorld. Coastal Commission staff attached eight conditions to its plan-acceptance recommendation that are designed to limit the project's impact on the surrounding area.

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