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January 30, 2024

Schiff, Wyden, Huffman, and DelBene Introduce Legislation to End Future Capture And Breeding Of Whales For Public Display

Washington, D.C.— Today, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) along with Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), reintroduced the Strengthening Welfare in Marine Settings Act (SWIMS), legislation that would end the future capture and breeding of whales for public display.

Studies have shown that certain cetaceans - specifically, orcas, beluga whales, pilot whales, and false killer whales - are cognitively, emotionally, and socially complex animals who cannot thrive in captivity. Whales who are held for display often exhibit signs of suffering and distress and die significantly younger than whales who live in the wild. Currently, there are roughly 50 whales being held in captivity in the United States.

“Whales should be living free in the ocean, not the confines of a concrete tank,” said Rep. Schiff. “The SWIMS Act would protect these magnificent creatures from lives trapped in captivity and prevent the cruel practice of breeding whales for public display. I thank Senator Wyden and Representatives Huffman and DelBene for their support on this important and compassionate bill.” 

“Whales that are held in captivity live much shorter lives than in the wild, and despite rules passed to improve conditions in public display settings, this fact persists,” Sen. Wyden said. “Banning the trade and breeding of these four species of whales for the purpose of public display would further improve animal welfare nationwide. Additionally, by supporting whales in the wild, our bill also promotes more whale watching tourism which flourishes off the coast of Oregon, where major whale migrations occur each year.”

“The science and tragic real-life experiences have shown us time and again that marine mammals suffer from being in captivity - often being exploited and abused. But our laws and practices don’t reflect that,” said Rep. Huffman. “We must finally make the humane changes that have been needed for decades. With our bill, these extraordinary mammals can thrive and be appreciated where they belong – in the wild.”

"Whales and dolphins are treasures of our coastal areas, and they deserve to thrive in their natural habitats, free from exploitation and abuse," said Rep. DelBene. "This legislation would prevent the capture and breeding of these majestic marine animals for public display, ensuring they are observed and cherished in the environments where they truly belong." 

“Science increasingly supports the conclusion that we cannot provide conditions in a concrete enclosure to accommodate the size, wide-ranging nature, and physiological and social needs of these four species,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, AWI’s marine mammal scientist. “The SWIMS Act would compel marine theme parks and aquariums to transition to a more humane future.”  

Specifically, the SWIMS Act would:

  • Amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to prohibit the taking, importation, or exportation of these whales for the purpose of public display.
  • Amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit any breeding of these whales for future public display.
  • Allow exemptions for animals being transported to a sanctuary setting or released to the wild.

The SWIMS Act is supported by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, Born Free USA, Cetaceans. org, Cetacean Society International, CompassionWorks International, Dolphin Project, Earth Law Center, FOUR PAWS USA, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Humane Society of the United States, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Jean-Michael Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, Last Chance for Animals, Michelson Center for Public Policy, Oceanic Preservation Society, Origami Whales Project, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Performing Animal Welfare Society, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Project O, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Whale Sanctuary Project, and World Animal Protection.

The SWIMS Act is cosponsored by Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Representatives Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.).

To read the full bill text, click HERE.