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SeaWorld gets extension to sue over orca enclosure project

SeaWorld San Diego

Orcas perform in the “One Ocean” killer whale show at SeaWorld San Diego in 2012. The park proposed a $100-million plan to nearly double the size of the whale enclosure.

 

(SeaWorld Entertainment)

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. will get extra time to challenge the conditions imposed by a state panel on the theme park company’s plan to expand its killer whale enclosure in San Diego.

SeaWorld won approval from the California Coastal Commission in October to nearly double the orca facility in its San Diego Park. But the state panel added the condition that SeaWorld end its captive whale breeding program and halt the transfer of any whales in or out of the park.

SeaWorld vowed to sue the commission, saying the condition was outside of the state agency’s authority. Under state law, SeaWorld had 60 days from the date of the commission’s vote to file the lawsuit. That deadline passed Monday. 

The Orlando-based company said it has reached an agreement with the commission to extend the deadline for filing a lawsuit but declined to elaborate on the extension. A spokeswoman for the coastal commission said the two sides agreed to a new deadline of Dec. 31 to file the lawsuit.

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“While our intention to file a legal challenge remains unchanged, it is not uncommon for parties in litigation of this kind to mutually agree to extensions of procedural deadlines,” SeaWorld said in a statement.

SeaWorld Chief Executive Joel Manby has suggested that he will put the expansion project — dubbed “Blue World” — on hold for now. 

The new orca environment would nearly double the size of the current facility, covering 1.5 acres at 50 feet deep and 350 feet in length. The new habitat will have 10 million gallons of water, up from 5.6 million.

Critics of SeaWorld say they suspect that the theme park will use the larger enclosure to hold more whales. SeaWorld now has 11 orcas, eight of which were born in captivity.

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During discussions with the Coastal Commission, SeaWorld had offered to limit its orca population to 15. But that offer was retracted once the coastal commission added the no-breeding clause.

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


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