Proposal to end killer-whale shows in California: Will it live or die?

SAN DIEGO -- A bill aimed at ending killer-whale shows at SeaWorld San Diego will get its first test Tuesday in Sacramento.

The Assembly Parks, Water and Wildlife Committee is scheduled to consider AB 2140 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) at 9 a.m.

The bill would prohibit orcas from being used for "performance or entertainment purposes" and require SeaWorld to return the orcas to the wild "where possible." If that is deemed impossible, the orcas must be "transferred to a sea pen."

If approved by the panel, the bill would go to the full Assembly for a vote -- or it could die in committee.

SeaWorld San Diego has 10 orcas: four caught in the wild, six born in captivity. The Bloom bill would also prohibit the captive breeding of orcas or the transferring of them to SeaWorld parks in Florida and Texas.

The bill was sparked by the advocacy film "Blackfish," shown in theaters and on CNN. The film asserts that the orcas are mistreated in captivity by being kept in close confinement and notes the death of a SeaWorld employee in Florida in 2010, killed by an orca.

Both sides in the dispute have launched lobbying campaigns. SeaWorld officials went to Sacramento last week to argue that the bill is unneeded and that "Blackfish" is inaccurate.

On Monday, advocates from the Animal Welfare Institute arrived in Sacramento with a petition they said was signed by 1.2 million people in support of the bill.

Opposition to the bill from San Diego's tourism industry is based on the economic threat to SeaWorld if orca shows are banned. Although the park has many other attractions, the orca shows at Shamu Stadium have long been the marquee.

SeaWorld San Diego drew 4.4 million visitors last year, employs 4,500 workers during the peak tourism season, and pays more than $14 million in rent to the city.

The bill does not mention SeaWorld San Diego but the park is the only one in California with orcas. As a piece of state legislation, AB 2140 would not affect marine parks out of state.

The only member of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee from San Diego County announced Monday night that she planned to support the bill.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said that she rejects the economic arguments against the ban on orca shows and instead is concerned that if the shows are not ended "another employee will be hurt or killed by a distressed orca."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATsandiego

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