For the sake of killer whales and marine mammals currently living at SeaWorld San Diego, and ultimately animals living at zoos everywhere, I urge the California Assembly to show strong leadership and reject AB 2140. Although this proposed legislation is euphemistically called the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, the bill would actually ensure just the opposite. It is ironic the word ‘welfare’ is used in the title of this proposed bill, because welfare, through the language of the initiative, would be greatly diminished, not enhanced, for the ten killer whales at SeaWorld.

I have been involved with animals for most of my adult life as a biologist and animal manager, including several years as a killer whale trainer. Based on my research and zoological background I know this bill would have a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of animals that thrive on the enrichment they receive from their trainers whether during shows, training exercises or husbandry sessions. This initiative would prohibit the important social interactions and lessen relationships that currently exist between the whales and their trainers. The ‘no breeding’ provision of this bill would be catastrophic. To satisfy this portion of the ban, the five male and five female killer whales at SeaWorld would have to be separated and housed by their gender in different pools. This, of course, is not how killer whales naturally organize in the wild or at SeaWorld.  This imposed isolation would destroy the enriching social structure that already exists with the whales.  If enacted, the bill would force these animals to be permanently separated in unnatural groupings that would decrease their welfare.

Let us be clear, this legislation is not born out of a desire to improve the welfare of a single animal species.  What this bill actually represents is an attempt by animal rights extremists to further their anti-captivity agenda.  The fact that Assemblyman Bloom has linked arms with a number of well-known animal rights activists is all the proof needed to confirm the guiding force behind this initiative.

As a physiologist, it’s baffling to me to hear the criticism used by these animal rights activists to justify the bill’s ban on killer whale shows at SeaWorld.  In one breath, they claim that the bows and jumps displayed in shows are too strenuous for these massive animals. In another, they tout how orcas in the wild may swim up to 100 miles day and jump to stun fish. Using their inconsistent logic, a handful of show behaviors is too exhausting, but swimming the equivalent distance of San Diego to Los Angeles is not a problem? We need to stop listening to the scientifically unsubstantiated rhetoric of activists whose purpose is not to improve the quality of life of animals, but is really intended to advance their own ideology.

It is also important to note that this bill is in direct conflict with the landmark federal legislation known as the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).  That historic piece of bipartisan legislation has helped the study, preservation and protection of marine mammals not just in U.S. waters, but throughout the world ocean. In coastal states like California, the MMPA has fostered greater awareness, education, conservation and basic research of species no one really thought much about before places like SeaWorld taught us to care. When the MMPA was crafted more than 40 years ago, killer whales were still being killed – used for target practice in our oceans. Its authors recognized the educational importance of public display of marine mammals, including killer whales, as being an integral component of any successful and sustainable marine animal and habitat conservation.  AB 2140 would roll back the clock to when marine mammals were out of our sight and out of our collective consciousness. And as history has shown over again, no good will come to marine animals when that happens.

Fortunately, thanks to caring and dedicated marine mammal professionals, millions of people continue to vote their continued support by visiting marine parks like SeaWorld, an organization I know firsthand that is committed to improving animal welfare inside and outside their gates. This bill is not based in fact, but on emotional arguments, and would only serve to harm animals as well as the citizens of California. I call on the leadership of the California Assembly to see this proposed legislation for the illusion that it is and decisively reject it.