Should California make Sea World’s killer whale shows illegal?


Killer whales at SeaWorld in a 2006 performance. SeaWorld Entertainment says a drop in attendance in 2013 was not the result of a backlash from the documentary film “Blackfish.”

(Associated Press)

Killer whale shows may be a bad idea, but should they be illegal? An upcoming bill in the California Legislature would ban such shows in the state — which boils down to banning them at Sea World in San Diego — as well as forbidding captive breeding and the import or export of killer whales, which despite their names are actually the largest of the dolphins.

It’s increasingly hard to buy Sea World’s contention that killer whales are happy colleagues of their human captors in this whole training and entertainment business. Large blue tanks of water and trainers doling out fish for desired behaviors are no replacement for the large, close-knit family groups that killer whales travel with in the wild, over great distances.

But there are legitimate questions about whether the state has the right to target one particular business that has made huge investments based on an activity that has been entirely legal, and in essence take that investment — the company’s signature meal ticket — away from it. Further, the bill is expected to require the creation of sea pens for the killer whales’ future captivity (few if any killer whales could be safely returned to the ocean) whenever possible.

The language of the bill by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) hasn’t been filed yet, but his office has made the legislator’s plans well known.


Perhaps it would make sense simply to end captive breeding, along with any import of new whales (it seems an overreach to tell Sea World that it can’t send its own whales to other states where the shows would still be legal) and let the whole thing die out in the state over the years.

Even better would be for more people to see the documentary “Blackfish” (it’s streaming on Netflix) and realize for themselves the real picture behind marine park extravaganzas. That would tamp down a lot of the enthusiasm for seeing the awe-inspiring marine mammals perform tricks.

Now that more is known about the natural lives of killer whales, Sea World-type shows look increasingly offensive. But not everything that is offensive should be made illegal.

What are your thoughts on this? Should the killer whale shows be banned, or is this a step on a slippery slope where the state would ban any business that it finds politically incorrect?



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