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California's 'Blackfish' Bill Tabled, SeaWorld to Keep Orcas for Now

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Apr 08, 2014 04:59 PM EDT
Killer Whales at SeaWorld Theme Park
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is set to unveil an anti-SeaWorld advertisement at the San Diego International Airport on Thursday, The Associated Press (AP) reported. (Photo : Sea World)

California lawmakers tabled a bill Tuesday that would have banned keeping killer whales (orca) in captivity, specifically at SeaWorld's San Diego park location.

Riding a wave of momentum fostered by the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" the bill had the support of more than 1.2 million people who signed a petition in favor of it and would have needed a simple majority vote by California lawmakers to be passed into law.

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California Assembly Bill 2140, also known as the "Orca Welfare Safety Act," proposes to outlaw holding orca in captivity or using the mammals for performance or entertainment purposes.

Orcas, according to the "Blackfish" film, are too sentient to be held in captivity. The film shows mother orcas making what can only be described as noises of agony when their young are take away from them.

SeaWorld dismisses the film's claims and said the bill is based on emotions and distortions from the film, according to The Associated Press.

"Representatives from SeaWorld and opponents of the bill argued that the money generated from millions of visitors to the parks helps support the much larger population of orcas in the wild and generates interest in marine life, providing close encounters between people and whales that would be unlikely otherwise," TIME.com reported.

But no action will be taken regarding AB2140 for at least a year. Lawmakers agreed to put the bill on hold until further study is conducted.

"It's clear that many committee members are simply unprepared to make a decision on the bill," the bill's author Democrat Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, told the AP.

"It's unfortunate that much of the conversation has been fueled ... by fear and invective and misinformation," Bloom said.

Had the bill been put into law, SeaWorld would have likely sent the 10 orcas it keeps at its San Diego park to SeaWorld properties outside the state, the AP reported, citing Scott Wetch, a SeaWorld lobbyist.

The study period will effectively keep the bill at bay until mid-2015, but animal rights activists are not treating the news as a defeat.

"We are pleased to see that the committee will further review this issue and help ensure SeaWorld finally comes to the table," said Naomi Rose a marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute. "The science is clear - holding killer whales in captivity is harmful to the whales and to the trainers. The interim study mandated by the committee will provide further evidence of the need for this bill. We look forward to participating in this effort and excited to return next session to pass this bill into law."

Animal rights group PETA said writing is on the wall.

"The public has learned how orcas suffer psychologically, succumb to premature deaths, and lash out in frustration and aggression in SeaWorld's orca pits, and they've responded with lower attendance levels, public protests, and legislation. SeaWorld can take the year to figure out how to release the orcas into ocean sanctuaries," PETA said in a statement.

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