California Coastal Commission Bans Orca Breeding at SeaWorld

While approving a $100 million expansion of SeaWorld’s killer whale habitats on Thursday, the California Coastal Commission also threw the future of the embattled theme park into uncertainty with a set of bold new breeding restrictions. With Thursday’s decision, Sea World will no longer be permitted to breed its orcas, effectively spelling the end for its captive whale population.

The sale, trade or transfer of captive orcas is also prohibited in California, so without breeding practices—which often include artificial insemination—SeaWorld cannot sustain its cache of killer whales. Without its beloved Shamu, the park’s survivability would be a long shot at best. But whether or not the commission actually has the authority to make such a call is still a matter of debate.

SeaWorld officials slammed the panel’s decision last week, saying it would be “cruel” to deny the creatures’ ability to breed. They are currently weighing their legal options, but have not confirmed whether or not they will challenge the ban. Either way, they are no longer expected to move forward with the massive 2018 project.

SeaWorld has been suffering from a precipitous drop in sales since the 2013 release of the documentary, Blackfish. The film tells the story of killer whale Tilikum, who killed his trainer in 2010, while also shedding light on alleged neglect and abuse of whales at the park. In addition, SeaWorld has landed in the crosshairs of state legislators who unsuccessfully attempted to ban killer whale shows at the park last year.

Read more about Thursday’s decision from the California Coastal Commission here.

Image Credit: Flickr User dmoreno, via (CC BY 2.0)