Can the ORCA Act Shut Down SeaWorld?

A proposed bill brings the anti-captivity movement to the nation’s capital.
Children get a close-up view of an orca at SeaWorld in San Diego. (Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters)
Nov 6, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

SeaWorld warned its investors Thursday that the company’s 2015 profits will be $10 million short of projections. Now the embattled marine theme park could be facing a war in Congress.

At a press conference on Friday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., announced his plan to introduce the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act, a bill aimed at ending the public display of captive orcas, stopping captive breeding programs, making artificial insemination illegal, and banning the capture of wild orcas.

If enacted, the bill would essentially phase out all killer whale displays in the United States, making SeaWorld’s staple form of entertainment obsolete.

“The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display,” Schiff said during the press conference in Santa Monica, California. “We cannot be responsible stewards of our natural environment and propagate messages about the importance of animal welfare when our behaviors do not reflect our principles.”

RELATED: California Tells SeaWorld to Stop Breeding Killer Whales

According to Schiff, the ORCA Act guarantees the orcas in captivity today will be the last ones. “We will appreciate these incredible creatures where they belong—in the wild,” Schiff said.

The legislation is the latest in a long line of hurdles SeaWorld has faced since the 2013 release of the anti-captivity documentary Blackfish. In 2014, California assemblymember Richard Bloom sent shock waves through the marine-mammal industry with his proposed Orca Welfare and Safety Act, aimed at ending orca performances and captive breeding programs, after which Schiff modeled his bill.

Bloom’s bill (AB 2140) died in committee before it could come to a vote—a rare victory for SeaWorld last year, which saw the federal court rule that trainers and orcas performing together in tanks is dangerous and had the California Coastal Commission tell the theme park it had to stop breeding orcas if it wanted to build bigger tanks for its planned $100 million killer whale display.

“There is no justification for the continued captive display and breeding of orcas for entertainment purposes,” said Bloom, who attended the press conference. “They belong in their natural habitat, where they can travel long distances and feed as predators do.”

Schiff’s ORCA Act, cosponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., outlines plans for a phaseout of the current captive orcas programs, such as those at SeaWorld’s San Diego, San Antonio, and Orlando, Florida, parks, “giving orca-holding facilities time to transition to a more humane future,” the bill states.

So far, the bill has gained the support of animal rights organizations such as the Animal Welfare Institute, The Humane Society, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“The growing body of scientific evidence is compelling for orcas,” said Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute. “They are simply too large, too wide-ranging, too socially complex, and too intelligent to thrive in any-size concrete enclosure. Orcas do not belong in captivity.”