Whale captivity would be banned in aquariums and water parks under proposed federal law – Daily News

Just as elephants retired from the Ringling Brothers circus in 2016, several members of Congress have proposed legislation that would ban the catching and breeding of certain whale species for public entertainment in theme parks and aquariums.

The legislation would affect wildlife parks that exhibit orcas, such as those at SeaWorld in San Diego and Florida, as well as whale shows at several other aquariums and parks across the country.

The bill’s authors say whales are extremely smart, social mammals that need vast ocean areas to thrive, and that keeping them in enclosures amounts to inhumane treatment and leads to premature death. However, a zoo and aquarium trade organization says the bill is going too far, limiting access to land-locked marine mammals for many children.

“Whales are among the most intelligent, fascinating and beautiful creatures in the world,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, a primary author of the bill, in a prepared statement. “And they deserve to live free in their natural habitat — not in captivity where their lives are defined by the four walls of a concrete tank.”

Schiff has worked with California congressmen who have supported environmental legislation in the past, including Representatives Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach; Tony Cardenas, D-Los Angeles; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and congressmen from Washington, New York, New Jersey and Tennessee. sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, signed the legislation called the Strengthening Welfare in Marine Setting Act (SWIMS), officially introduced on July 26 as HR 8514.

Specifically, the bill would ban the capture, export, import and breeding of killer whales, belugas, pilot whales and false killer whales. Exceptions are made for whales included for research and for whales living in marine reserves.

About 50 whales are being held in the US, according to the authors of the bill.

The authors, as well as nonprofit organizations and scientific data, say these whales are cognitively, emotionally, and socially conscious, large-brained animals that suffer suffering when kept in an enclosure for display and separated from their social circle.

“The conditions these whales live in contribute to a much shorter lifespan — killer whales in captivity typically only live 12 years compared to 40 years in the wild,” Feinstein said in a statement, “and there is significant evidence that captivity is unbearable.” for these mammals.”

FILE - In this file photo, taken on November 30, 2006, a young girl watches through the glass at a killer whale as she swims in an exhibition tank at SeaWorld, in San Diego.  SeaWorld has suspended an employee accused of posing as an animal rights activist for years and attempting to incite violence against peaceful protesters, company officials said on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris Park, file)
FILE – In this file photo, taken on November 30, 2006, a young girl watches through the glass as a killer whale passes by as she swims in a display tank at SeaWorld, in San Diego. SeaWorld has suspended an employee accused of posing as an animal rights activist for years and attempting to incite violence against peaceful protesters, company officials said on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris Park, file)

What it means for SeaWorld is not clear. The Southern California park announced in 2016 that the whales currently in captivity will be the last, meaning no more whales will be imported. In addition, California has banned the breeding of orcas in captivity. In 2017, following protests from animal rights groups, the park turned its orca show into one that emphasizes the whale’s natural propensities to hunt and communicate.

But stopping breeding means SeaWorld’s whale exhibit, the “Orca Experience,” may soon disappear if new whales can’t replace the dying.

SeaWorld summed up its opposition and deferred it to others in the company who are also opposing the legislation.

“What you’re likely to hear from the experts is that the legislation goes too far, is misleading and unnecessary,” SeaWorld spokesman Tracy Spahr said in an email to the Southern California News Group. She added that the legislation could threaten research and rescue operations conducted at SeaWorld and other parks, work that maintains the population of endangered cetaceans.

Other parks and aquariums that may be affected by the bill include the Georgia Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, Miami Seaquarium, and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Dan Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquaria, a trade group representing 238 members, said the bill would have unintended consequences.

“If you lose the opportunity to keep these animals in a healthy, responsible environment, you lose the opportunity to learn more about them,” said Ashe, who served as director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service from 2011 to 2017.

Aquariums and zoos are often called in to rehabilitate sick or injured wildlife, and without hands-on learning from those whales in captivity, they’d lose that expertise, Ashe said. “These are leading rescue organizations,” he said. “Call SeaWorld. Call the Georgia Aquarium of Shedd. They know how to take care of these animals.”

Ashe predicted a strong push from his group, as well as individual zoos and aquariums that view the bill as part of a radical animal rights agenda to free all animals in captivity, including those in zoos.

“The opposition to this SWIMS bill will be broad and strong,” he said.

One group that agrees with the bill is the Cetacean Society International, based in West Hartford, Conn. They lobby for passage. Whales, dolphins and porpoises are classified as cetaceans and society believes they should be protected. The group believes keeping four different whale species in captivity has proven harmful.

Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut has a beluga whale, and recently imported five whales from a Canadian aquarium, but two died, said David Kaplan, president of the Cetacean Society.

Often transporting these beautiful whales in trucks is stressful for the animals. “They’re not minnows, not goldfish,” Kaplan said. “They transport whales by truck. That is barbaric.”

Kaplan added: “Putting a whale in a concrete tank is a lot like the solitary confinement of a human being. It’s torture. It takes an animal out of its element. It drives them crazy.”

Similar bills were not adopted in 2015 and 2016. Some say the 2016 version — specifically targeting orcas — convinced SeaWorld to agree to halt future breeding of the black and white whales. And 2017 protests by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, led to a more natural killer whale show.

But PETA wants a ban on captivity and breeding in all 50 states and supports the legislation.

PETA said in a written response, “Without any law outside of California that prohibits SeaWorld or any other facility from breeding and exploiting orcas for entertainment, and no law in the country prohibiting the breeding of belugas, false killer whales and pilot whales, PETA is collecting Its members and supporters are committed to supporting the SWIMS Act, which would prevent more generations of these animals from living and dying in gloomy concrete tanks, with nothing to do but swim in circles, beg for dead fish and lash out at each other in frustration .”

Andy Yun, a SeaWorld pass holder from Irvine, said that after seeing the killer whale show as a child, he was inspired to help marine biologists track whales off the coast of Washington during a summer program in 2005. His experience with researchers led to several sightings of killer whale pods.

More recently, he said his 8-year-old daughter learned a lot about whales and protecting the ocean environment after visiting SeaWorld. The two experiences go hand in hand, and the world needs both kinds of encounters, he said.

“It’s not black and white,” says Yun, 37. “I feel like the benefits of making orcas accessible (in a water park or aquarium) outweigh the drawbacks.”

Kathleen Salisbury, who responded to questions about the bill in a tweet, said: “I agree with the bill. Should go on a whale watching tour instead.”

Kaplan said the Cetacean Society promoted the first whale watching tours off the coast of Cape Cod in the mid-1970s as an alternative to hunting whales or keeping them in displays for entertainment. Whale watching tours have grown in popularity there and on the West Coast as a way to see whales in the wild, not in an enclosure.

“These majestic marine mammals should be observed and nurtured in their natural habitat where they belong, not in captivity,” Representative Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, wrote in a statement.

Whale watching is offered off the coasts of Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point. These companies have taken photos of several whale species seen from their boats and have helped save whales.

“I don’t know anyone who in their right mind thinks it’s okay to capture whales,” said Capt’s Gisele Anderson. Dave’s Dana Point Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari, a company that has been in business for 28 years.

“If people can experience them in the wild, it’s a much better experience all the way around,” she said.

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