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Bill banning killer whale shows to get further study

April 09, 2014|Tony Perry

SAN DIEGO — Putting the brakes on a controversial bill to ban killer whale shows at SeaWorld San Diego, an Assembly committee Tuesday called for additional study that could take at least 18 months.

Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, one of the bill's sponsors, said she was disappointed by the move but pleased at the idea of more study -- although it remained unclear how the study would be conducted.

John Reilly, president of SeaWorld San Diego, said he doubted a compromise is possible with people backing the bill. SeaWorld officials labeled Rose and others as extremists working off emotion and an inaccurate view of SeaWorld presented in the documentary "Blackfish."

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), chairman of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, said the issue of killer whales in captivity is too complex to be decided after a two-hour hearing.

The panel's action, called sending a bill to "interim study," did not require a vote, thus sparing committee members from choosing between SeaWorld and the animal-rights activists.

Speaker-elect Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), in a statement issued by her office, said the "analysis and discussion" during the interim study "will strengthen our understanding of the issues and will lead to a more informed decision."

SeaWorld is in Atkins' district and is a major force in the region's tourism economy.

Although she expressed no opinion on the bill, Atkins has long been a SeaWorld supporter and was a featured speaker last month at its 50th anniversary.

SeaWorld officials told the committee that the bill would cripple the park's program of rescuing injured animals in the wild. Also, SeaWorld officials suggested that SeaWorld would ship its killer whales to marine parks outside California before the bill became effective and probably sue the state.

Written by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), AB 2140 would prohibit orcas from being used for "performance or entertainment purposes" and require SeaWorld to return the orcas to the wild "where possible." If that is deemed impossible, the orcas must be "transferred to a sea pen."

Bloom said that his bill was "a work in progress" and that he welcomed "additional dialogue."

If the debate at the hearing is any indication, the topics to be studied would include whether orcas in captivity live as long as orcas in the wild, whether it is practical to build sea pens, and whether SeaWorld's orcas are suffering, as the AB 2140 backers insist, or thriving, as SeaWorld insists.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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