California Campaigners Welcome Orca Protection Act

California Campaigners Welcome Orca Protection Act


CONTACT: Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.,, (805) 836-0496


Sacramento, CA (September 13, 2016) – In Defense of Animals is celebrating a historic achievement for orcas in the wild and captivity: Governor Jerry Brown has signed the California Orca Protection Act, legislation designed to see the eventual phase-out of orca captivity in California. The bill was originally introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom in 2014, and reintroduced last spring after undergoing several changes. It represents the sea-change in recent years of public attitudes towards orca captivity.

The act bans orca shows, and captivity in general, for entertainment purposes. It also outlaws orca breeding, making it illegal to export, collect or import reproductive materials, such as semen or embryos, for the purposes of artificial insemination. The act further stipulates that it is illegal to export or sell orcas to other states or countries. The sales restriction is an important step toward orcas and other cetaceans being considered nonhuman persons, rather than property that can be purchased and sold.

“People are increasingly turning away from animal entertainment as it is archaic and unjustified,” said President of In Defense of Animals, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “We applaud the California State Assembly and Governor Jerry Brown for acting on behalf of orcas and so many people who care about them.”

Cetacean Scientist for In Defense of Animals, Dr. Toni Frohoff said, “This is a momentous decision that reflects established science on orca well-being, and also public opinion that increasingly demands that these majestic, highly intelligent beings should not be held captive.”

Certain transfers to other facilities within North America will permitted, as long as they have been federally authorized or if the transfer is “to another facility within North America that meets standards comparable to those provided under the Animal Welfare Act”. While this could prove to be a weakness within the act, it also provides an important avenue for orcas to be transferred to seaside sanctuaries, as scientists and organizations, including In Defense of Animals, are advocating for.

SeaWorld did not oppose the bill, however this could be because the new legislation demands little actual change for the 11 orcas currently at the San Diego facility, which is the only place captive orcas reside in the state. The act allows for them to be held in captivity as long as it is “educational”, which is defined as “a live, scheduled orca display in the presence of spectators that includes natural behaviors, enrichment, exercise activities, and a live narration and video content that provides science-based education to the public.”

Many question the validity and value of this education, however. For example, SeaWorld likens the slide-out area where orcas are forced to beach themselves as a “natural behavior” similar to the hunting strategy used by certain wild orca communities as they hunt for seals.

“Hunting in the wild and being trained to beach themselves onto concrete slabs are two very different things,” points out Dr. Frohoff. “While it may appear to be mechanically similar, telling people that it is natural behavior is very misleading.”

Another question is whether the more “natural” scenes being displayed on SeaWorld screens above the orca tanks might cause increased psychological suffering.

“Based on what science has determined about orca neurobiology, psychology, cognition, and behavior, it is obvious that these orcas would have some understanding of what is being shown,” says Dr. Frohoff. “What might orcas Corky, Kasatka and Ulises, all of whom were captured from the wild, think about seeing what could easily be their natural homes, and even their own families – yet not being able to actually communicate with or experience them? This could be one of the cruelest forms of psychological torment for captive orcas possible.”

Sadly, SeaWorld continues to ardently deny options for seaside sanctuaries to its captives, intending to keep them on display until the day they die, while using them to misinform the public.

It is also unclear whether SeaWorld will continue to allow their captives to reproduce without artificial insemination, something that could perpetuate orca captivity indefinitely and be within the confines of the new California law.

The Orca Protection Act does not take into account the similarly egregious suffering endured by other cetaceans, such as bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales. Troublingly, SeaWorld appears to be increasing its exploitation of bottlenose dolphins as it expands swim-with programs at its San Antonio location. The company has also been looking towards international expansion to countries that are less well informed about the suffering of animals for entertainment.

Dr. Frohoff concluded, “Ultimately, the new Act is an important step in the right direction, and we hope that its passing will encourage the proliferation of other state and federal legislation. While there remains many years of orca display left in California, this Act hopefully represents a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”

SeaWorld is shamed as #1 Worst Tank on In Defense of Animals’ Ten Worst Tanks for dolphins and whales:

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization located in San Rafael, Calif. dedicated to protecting animals’ rights, welfare, and habitats through education, outreach, and our hands-on rescue facilities in India, Africa, and rural Mississippi.

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