SeaWorld Sues Over Breeding
San Diego — SeaWorld made good on its vow to challenge a California Coastal Commission decision barring the breeding of its killer whales, filing a lawsuit Tuesday in San Diego demanding a reversal of the prohibition.
At issue is an October action by the coastal agency approving SeaWorld San Diego’s plans to significantly enlarge its killer whale tanks, but only on the condition that the marine park no longer be able to breed captive orcas, nor transfer them into or out of the park.
SeaWorld Entertainment has since said that its Blue World expansion project is on hold and that it may divert some of the $100 million budget to another attraction. However, it has remained unwavering in its intent to get the ban overturned.
“This last-minute ‘no breeding or transfer’ condition is unprecedented, and it is plainly illegal for one very clear reason: the Coastal Commission’s jurisdiction — which is entirely defined and circumscribed by the Coastal Act — does not extend to the care, breeding or transport of the SeaWorld orcas because the orcas are not, in any way, part of the coastal or marine environment,” SeaWorld said in its petition filed in San Diego Superior Court.
The commission, it asserts, is preempted from taking such an action under federal laws such as the Marine Mammal Act, which already govern the management and breeding of orcas.
“SeaWorld’s breeding program complies with those laws and regulations, and the Coastal Commission has no jurisdiction to impose its own requirements as to those matters of federal law,” the suit states.
Coastal Commission spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz said Tuesday that the commission has not had a chance to review the lawsuit and could not comment on it.
SeaWorld San Diego’s population of 11 killer whales is integral to its longstanding Shamu show, although company CEO Joel Manby recently announced that the iconic theatrical performance would be overhauled, beginning in 2017, and replaced with an attraction that focuses more on the marine mammals’ natural behaviors.
The Coastal Commission action in October followed an all-day hearing at a meeting in Long Beach, Calif., attended by hundreds of supporters and critics of the theme park company. SeaWorld has been under a prolonged attack by animal rights activists that intensified following the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish, which was critical of its treatment of killer whales.
Since that time, attendance has dropped sharply at the San Diego park, and company revenues have declined as well.
In its lawsuit, SeaWorld characterized the hearing as one that became “unhinged.”
“Animal rights activists appeared at the Coastal Commission hearing and vilified SeaWorld in their ‘testimony,’ ” the suit said.
The ban imposed by the commission, it added, was clearly designed to put an end to the park’s longstanding orca show.
“The condition forces SeaWorld to either agree to the eventual demise of its lawful and federally-regulated orca exhibition, or withdraw the permit application and forego the effort to enhance the orcas’ habitat, improve the opportunities for scientific research, and enrich the visitor experience,” the lawsuit continues. “The orca exhibit is the cornerstone of the San Diego park.”
SeaWorld’s court filing comes less than a week after a U.S. District judge dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of marine park patrons in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando, Fla., claiming the company defrauded them in describing its treatment of its killer whales.