Protecting Captive Orcas
Phasing Out Orcas in Captivity
Update: The 2019 Florida legislative session ended in May. Unfortunately, legislation protecting captive orcas did not advance this year. We look forward to advocating for the Florida Orca Protection Act in 2020. In the meantime, follow the Florida Orca Protection Act Facebook page to learn how you can support this important initiative!
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with a coalition of animal protection, environmental, and marine conservation groups, is working to ensure that this generation of captive orcas in Florida is the last.
This legislation would make it illegal to hold orcas in captivity for any purpose (grandfathering those already in captivity in Florida), breed captive orcas, and transport captive orcas into Florida or out of North America, unless provided by federal law or to rehome to sanctuary. Moreover, the legislation would guarantee that those orcas already held in captivity in Florida would only be held for research or rehabilitation purposes and that any public displays must be strictly educational.
Additionally, the legislation would require that orcas held for rehabilitation or research purposes be returned to the wild whenever possible.
Even SeaWorld Orlando’s largest tank is just a glorified swimming pool. For an orca who can swim up to 140 miles a day and dive hundreds of feet deep, life in captivity is extreme confinement. If you’ve ever felt a sense of the great vastness of the ocean, it is truly to chilling to consider the life of a wild orca versus that of one in captivity. An orca in a tank is often compared to a human living in a bathtub.
Over the years, tireless education and advocacy campaigns have shined a light on the terrible cruelty of holding orcas in captivity, including many behavioral markers of extreme stress, physical injury, violence, and lifespans decades shorter than those of wild orcas. The stories of orcas who injure or kill trainers always make the headlines, but the tragedies never shock orca experts.
Everything we know about holding orcas in captivity tells us to expect nothing less from huge, intelligent creatures held in torturous conditions.
Thanks to Representative Jared Moskowitz, a bill was filed for the 2018 legislative session as HB 1305 but was not passed. While there is no stand-alone bill protecting orcas this session, legislators can still add language to related bills.
Companies Can Break a Promise, Not a Law
The past few years have seen incredible, promising change in public opinion. The public knows now more than ever that captive orcas are suffering orcas, and SeaWorld has never been less popular. Changing sentiment coupled with our tenacious legal efforts, and well as those of other organizations, brought about SeaWorld’s historic announcement that it would end captive breeding of orcas and phase out its program forcing the orcas to perform.
To save countless orcas from suffering through a life in captivity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with a coalition of animal protection, environmental, and marine conservation groups are proposing critical legislation that would codify SeaWorld’s promises.
With the death of Tilikum in January 2017, and the continued plight of Lolita, an orca who was captured in 1970 and lives alone in a small tank in Miami, it’s critical that this law be passed now so no additional orcas experience a similar fate.
We need your help to make sure lawmakers know protection for orcas is a priority issue for Floridians! Keep an eye on this page and follow our Facebook page and the Florida Orca Protection Act Facebook page for the latest news!
Contact Your Representative
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is asking Florida residents to contact their representatives in both the Florida House and Senate to demand protection for orcas as a legislative priority.
Click on the action alert below to send a message. After taking action, send your legislators a tweet to make sure they realize Floridians care about orcas! You can use this sample message:
- As your constituent and a Floridian, I want to make sure that you are aware of the need for legal protections for orcas in the state. Let’s make this the last generation of orcas kept to suffer a life in captivity. aldf.org/fopa #emptythetanks
- Find your representative’s Twitter handle.
- Find your senator’s Twitter handle.
- Don’t know who your representatives are? Look up your Florida Senator and Florida House Representative.
While you’re rallying support for this legislation, some fellow Floridians may have some questions.
Be prepared by reviewing these talking points that can help you explain why this legislation is so important.
The legislation is modeled on the California Orca Protection Act. Like the California law, it would make it illegal to:
- Hold orcas in captivity for any purpose (grandfathering those already in captivity in Florida as of a date TBD);
- Breed captive orcas; and
- Transport captive orcas out of Florida, unless provided by federal law or rehome to sanctuary.
Also like the California law, the Florida legislation will require that orcas held for rehabilitation or research purposes be returned to the wild whenever possible; no orca may be used for breeding, performance, or entertainment even if reintroduction to the wild is impossible.
The legislation is uncontroversial: it merely codifies SeaWorld’s corporate policy:
- SeaWorld announced in November 2015 that it would phase out theatrical orca performances and replace them with “natural orca encounters” that emphasized education and conservation; this shift was to become effective in California in 2017, and in Florida in 2019.
- SeaWorld announced in March 2016 that it would end captive breeding throughout its facilities.
- SeaWorld didn’t oppose the California Orca Protection Act because it understood that the law imposed no new obligations on them; however, during the 2017 legislative session, SeaWorld stated it would oppose the Florida Orca Protection Act, taking a position that is inconsistent and hypocritical, casting doubt on commitment to their own corporate policy.
SeaWorld’s lobbyist has insisted that the Florida effort is “offensive” to SeaWorld and might jeopardize the recovery of their stock value, exhibiting a misplaced and illogical concern that codifying corporate policy in another state’s law will harm the company when hypocrisy is the far greater risk.
The California bill enjoyed broad support, as has the proposed Florida legislation:
- Assemblymember Richard Bloom spearheaded the California effort and the bill passed with bipartisan support in both chambers of the California legislature (as part of an omnibus Public Resources bill).
- A broad coalition supports the the legislation, including numerous local and national environmental, marine conservation, and animal protection groups, many of which helped pass the California Orca Protection Act.
- The coalition also includes orca researchers and former orca trainers, many of whom are eager and willing to testify in support of the bill.
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission supports legislation, and Florida lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed commitment to sponsoring, co-sponsoring, or supporting it.
SeaWorld is not the only entity in Florida housing orcas.
- Miami Seaquarium holds captive the solitary orca Lolita, captured from the waters off Puget Sound in 1970 when she was young; she lives without orca companionship in the smallest tank in the nation, smaller even than the federal Animal Welfare Act minimally requires.
- However, this law will hardly impact the Miami Seaquarium: it has already phased out theatrical performances in favor of educational shows, and Lolita’s advanced age makes her infertile and therefore unaffected by a prohibition on captive breeding.
All orcas suffer severe deprivation in captivity:
- At best, captive orcas survive only as well as endangered and threatened wild orcas living in degraded habitat. Their survival to age milestones, including sexual maturity and menopause, is poor.
- Infections are the most common cause of death for captive orcas, likely resulting from immunosuppression caused by chronic stress and possibly exacerbated by poor dental health.
- Broken and worn teeth from chewing and gnawing on steel gates and concrete walls, as well as tooth “flattening” and “drilling” performed on the orcas for veterinary purposes, subject orcas to stress, pain, and infection; such dental problems are rare among wild orcas.
- Social isolation, separation from family units, and grossly suboptimal “habitats” (concrete tanks) cause emotional, psychological, and physical distress among captive orcas; incompatibility is common among captive orcas, who behave more aggressively toward each other than they do in the wild; captive females likewise exhibit abnormal behavior toward their calves more frequently than do their wild counterparts.