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California Can Save Orca Whales

We have known for years that orcas are not appropriate for captivity. These magnificent ocean dwellers are too large, too social, too intelligent, and too wide-roaming to be kept in small concrete tanks.
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Monday, the International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and I announced our support for Assemblymember Richard Bloom's AB 2140, the Orca Welfare and Health Act, his bill to end to the holding or use of captive orcas in California and a ban on keeping orcas in small concrete tanks to do circus performances for human entertainment. AB 2140 will be before the California legislature next week.

The movie Blackfish pulled back the veil hiding SeaWorld's abuse of orca whales. Now it's time to pass AB 2140 to force reform.

For the full text of AB 2140, click here.

See here for a list of members of the CA Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee (hearing AB 2140 on April 8th) and Arts & Entertainment Committee (hearing AB 2140 on April 22nd).

AB 2140 would ban captive orca "performances" that reek of tawdry circus acts, ban holding or use of any captive orcas, ban captive breeding and trade in orca sperm, allow for display only of orcas and push their retirement to natural sea pens.

We have known for years that orcas are not appropriate for captivity. These magnificent ocean dwellers are too large, too social, too intelligent, and too wide-roaming to be kept in small concrete tanks for a life of being fed dead fish and performing over and over again the same tricks.

This is not education -- it is poor education. Children who view these extravaganzas do not get information about orcas in the wild -- they instead get a lesson in dominance and animal cruelty. If the orcas don't do the tricks, they don't eat.

Orcas die in captivity far more frequently than they do in the wild and at younger ages. Orcas have never killed a human in the wild, but they have killed four people (including three trainers) in captivity and have injured many more trainers in dozens of incidents, some of which were included in the Blackfish documentary.

Under the provisions of AB 2140, those orcas still in captivity simply must be retired and put in sea pens where they can have a much more natural and free life. Some may be released back into the wild, but the main thing is to stop the breeding and sale of these animals and get them into sea pens where their mental and physical health can improve.

My organization Earth Island Institute and I have extensive experience in the care, rehabilitation, and release of captive cetaceans. I trained the original dolphins in the television series Flipper and also trained the first orca, Hugo, held in captivity on the East Coast. Hugo died from a brain aneurism from ramming his head repeatedly into the side of his concrete tank.

The Academy-Award winning documentary The Cove was about Earth Island's and my work to stop the captive industry and aquariums from subsidizing the slaughter of hundreds of dolphins annually in Taiji, Japan. I have rehabilitated and successfully released dozens of dolphins around the world that were former captives. For example, three bottlenose dolphins were released last fall from an aquarium in South Korea. I helped supervise the rehab and release of these three. They are now swimming with their original pods, which they linked up with after three years of being away in captivity.

Earth Island also launched the Free Willy Keiko Foundation, which rehabilitated and released the orca Keiko, star of the original Free Willy movie. Keiko was very ill when first encountered in a small tank in Mexico City, but he was rehabilitated and grew very healthy indeed in his home waters of Iceland, where he lived for six years, feeding himself and swimming all the way to Norway.

We strongly encourage an AYE vote on AB 2140.

California can lead the way in protecting orcas now languishing in captivity and provide a true education to the children of the Golden state.

I encourage all Californians to contact their Assemblymember in the State Captiol in Sacramento ASAP in support of AB 2140 for the orcas.