03.17.16

Rep. Schiff Applauds SeaWorld Decision to Phase Out Orca Captive Breeding Program

Schiff: Ensures “Current Generation of Captive Orcas Will Be The Last”

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), author of the ORCA Act which would phase out the captivity of orcas so that their display ends with this generation by prohibiting the breeding, the wild capture, and the import or export of orcas for the purposes of public display, released the following statement after SeaWorld’s announcement:

“SeaWorld's decision to end captive breeding and make no additional wild captures in the future, means that the current generation of captive Orcas in their parks will be the last.  The partnership they are making with the Humane Society, with its focus on rescue, rehabilitation, and advocacy on important marine issues not only represents a change in their business model, but an exciting new direction for the company. These changes are something that advocates have been urging for years, and I think SeaWorld will find that visitors will reward their actions with a renewed interest in the parks.

“Last year, I introduced the ORCA Act to end the breeding and wild capture of Orcas and with these changes today, SeaWorld is making this change a reality.  Congress should now pass the ORCA Act to make these changes permanent across the country, not just at SeaWorld, but in all parks.”

Background:

In 2015, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act.  This landmark legislation would phase out the captivity of orcas so that their display ends with this generation. Specifically, it would prohibit the breeding, the taking (wild capture), and the import or export of orcas for the purposes of public display. This legislation would also allow for the orderly phasing out of the display of this species, giving orca-holding facilities time to transition to a more humane future. 

The current global population of captive orcas has two sources – wild capture and captive breeding programs. Under current federal law, the federal government can issue permits for the capture or import of orcas for the purposes of public display. This is how, in the past, U.S. display facilities legally acquired orcas from the wild. While a wild capture of an orca has not occurred in U.S. waters since 1976, and wild-caught orcas from other parts of the world have not been imported since 2001, permits can still be issued legally. All other captive orcas have been bred in captivity. These practices would be prohibited under the ORCA Act.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently working to update decades-old federal regulations for captive marine mammals. However, while updated standards may improve the welfare of smaller, more adaptable marine mammals, no amount of regulation can ensure that orcas thrive while in captivity. Unlike other intelligent animals, there is no indication that the population of captive orcas will see any relief. Recently, Ringling Bros. Circus announced that it will retire its performing elephants, and the National Aquarium announced that it is retiring its dolphins. Until today, no such announcements had been made for the population of captive orcas in the U.S., and in fact, holders of captive orcas had been doubling-down on their belief that captivity is not detrimental to the health or well-being of orcas.  

In 2014, Reps. Adam Schiff and Jared Huffman, and 38 members of Congress called on USDA to take immediate steps to ensure the regulations protecting captive orcas and marine mammals reflect modern science. In a bipartisan letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the members of Congress urged his department to immediately update Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations for captive marine mammals, which have not been updated since 1995.

The legislation can be viewed online here, and a fact sheet about the ORCA Act can be viewed online here.

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