Ending Orca Captivity One Law at a TimePosted by Jenni James, ALDF Litigation Fellow on April 3, 2014
There is much great work to be done litigating on behalf of animals. Unfortunately, animals have far fewer protections than they need within our current legal framework. Even when an animal has powerful federal laws on her side, as Lolita the orca does, the path to justice is slow and uncertain. Just months after celebrating the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to protect Lolita under the Endangered Species Act—a rule that will not become final until March 2015—we learned that her case against the United States Department of Agriculture was dismissed. Incredibly, the judge sided with the USDA, which argued it had no obligation to ensure that an animal exhibitor is in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act before renewing that exhibitor’s license.
A Bill to Free Orcas
But there is a silver lining in this dark cloud. While lawyers must work with the laws we have, legislators have the power to create new laws that can make significant changes in the lives of animals. In California, for example, Assemblymember Richard Bloom recently introduced a bill (AB 2140), which offers unprecedented protections for the ten orcas held captive at SeaWorld San Diego.
When the bill passes, these orcas will no longer be subject to captive breeding––ensuring that this generation of captive orcas will be California’s last. No longer will orcas be forced to give birth too early and too often, a stressful practice that resulted in at least one nursing orca mom being administered Valium against accepted veterinary guidelines.
California’s captive orcas will also be spared from having to perform for their food. To end the archaic practice of keeping these highly intelligent, wide‑ranging predators cruelly confined solely for the sake of entertainment, the bill requires that all captive orcas in California be retired to a sea pen, as soon as a sea pen is provided. Without this unprecedented retirement provision, captive orcas are doomed to work until they die.
The bill also protects orca trainers, by limiting their close contact with these unpredictable, frustrated predators. Without this provision, orca trainers may be forced once again to put their lives on the line for the show, as SeaWorld appealed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s decision that forced trainers out of the water.
Like litigation, the legislative process is also slow and difficult at times. To accomplish any of these great things, Rep. Bloom’s bill must first survive a Committee Hearing on April 8.
If you live outside of California, please help ALDF spread the word about this important bill—it’s a crucial first step toward freeing captive orcas in the state.
If you are a California resident, your representatives need to hear from you to know you want this bill to thrive. SeaWorld is doing all they can to kill this bill. On April 2 they lobbied the legislature, urging them to allow the exploitation of orcas to continue. Your legislators need to hear the truth—from you.
Make a brief, polite phone call to your state assembly representative’s office. You can find your representative’s number here. Simply call and say, “I am a constituent. I care about captive orca welfare and I would like for you to support AB 2140.” After you call, you can email a follow-up message from the same page, using the same language.