The 2013 film “Blackfish” cast a spotlight on the cruelty of keeping orcas captive at marine theme parks ― with sometimes fatal results.
The film triggered a furore and legislators, particularly in California, vowed to ban orca captivity. Finally, in March — after years of boycotts and impending legal pressure — SeaWorld announced that it would end its orca breeding program as well as the theatrical shows that had featured its killer whales.
Now, California is hammering the nail into the coffin. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation this week that will outlaw orca breeding and captivity programs in the state.
The new law, which Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) authored, will also ban California parks from featuring orcas in performances for entertainment purposes. Starting in June 2017, killer whales in captivity can only be used for “educational presentations,” the Los Angeles Times reports. The legislation makes other exceptions for scientific and educational institutions that have orcas in their care.
SeaWorld said earlier this year that it planned to “fundamentally change” its business model, not just ending its orca breeding program but also stopping theatrical shows at its parks in San Diego, California, San Antonio, Texas, and Orlando, Florida.
The marine park said it would instead focus on education programs, and animal rescue and rehabilitation.
Though activists have pressed SeaWorld to free their captive orcas, it’s believed the animals will live out the remainder of their lives there.
“A lot of people just don’t realize that without facilities like SeaWorld, there are no places for these creatures to go,” said CEO Joel Manby in March, adding that the company cares for many sick and injured animals as part of its conservation initiative.
There are more than 50 orcas held in captivity in several U.S. states and at least eight countries worldwide, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. SeaWorld’s parks are home to more than 20 of them.