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SeaWorld sues Coastal Commission over 'no-breeding' clause added to orca project

SeaWorld San Diego has followed through on its promise to sue the California Coastal Commission for approving a new orca enclosure, but only with the condition that the park stop breeding and transferring its killer whales.

SeaWorld filed the suit Tuesday in California Superior Court in San Diego, alleging that the state panel does not have the authority to impose a "no-breeding" condition on the construction project that would more than double the enclosure size for the park's 11 killer whales.

The marine theme park company proposed a project -- dubbed Blue World -- to replace its existing 1.7-million-gallon tank holding facility with a new 450,000-gallon pool and a 5.2-million gallon tank.

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The Coastal Commission voted in October to add the no-breeding condition after hours of testimony by critics of SeaWorld, who called on the park to free the whales. SeaWorld officials vowed to sue to challenge the decision, saying the no-breeding clause would ultimately put an end to the park's most popular exhibit, the killer whale show.

“The Coastal Commission has neither the legal jurisdiction nor, accordingly, the expertise, to dictate the care, feeding or breeding of animals held solely in captivity under human care," according to the lawsuit, filed by the Los Angeles law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

The lawsuit says that the Coastal Commission is empowered to approve or reject construction projects that could affect the coastal and marine environment. But the lawsuit contends that the commission's authority does not extend to regulating the care of marine animals at the coastal theme park, which the lawsuit says is governed by federal law.

A spokeswoman for the Coastal Commission said the state panel had yet to read the lawsuit and, thus, could not comment.

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SeaWorld Entertainment Chief Executive Joel Manby has told investors that the parent company of SeaWorld San Diego may shelve the Blue World project. SeaWorld's stock and attendance at its theme parks have declined since the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which accuses SeaWorld of neglecting its whales.

SeaWorld executives have said the film is inaccurate and unfair.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow Hugo Martin on Twitter at @hugomartin.


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