SeaWorld Controversy: Park Approved for Larger Tanks but Can't Breed Whales

SeaWorld may not breed its whales in captivity, says Calif. Coastal Commission.

ByABC News
October 9, 2015, 1:06 PM

— -- The California Coastal Commission has approved an expansion of SeaWorld tanks in Southern California used to hold whales, but it is barring the breeding of the captive orcas that would live in the tanks -- a move the park is calling "inhumane."

The California Coastal Commission on Thursday approved a $100 million expansion of the tanks at SeaWorld in San Diego. SeaWorld said it plans to build a bigger, better home for its 11 orcas there.

But that ruling came with a warning about the future of the popular orcas. The commission said the expansion was approved "under a condition that would prohibit captive breeding, artificial insemination and the sale, trade or transfer of any animal in captivity."

Hundreds of people -- both supporters and opponents of the park -- were gathered in an auditorium in Long Beach, California, anxiously awaiting the commission's ruling on Thursday. Some opponents of the expansion said they were concerned that breeding the orcas was the motive behind the expansion.

Among the critics was actress Pamela Anderson. "I often look out at the beautiful ocean and wish the whales confined at SeaWorld had freedom, as nature intended," she said.

After the commission's decision, SeaWorld San Diego Park President John Reilly said SeaWorld is "disappointed with the conditions that the California Coastal Commission placed on their approval of the Blue World Project."

"Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal's life and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane," Reilly said in a statement.

However, the animal rights group PETA said via Twitter that the commission "did right" by the orcas.

"This would ultimately end captivity for long-suffering orcas in CA. #SeaWorld admitted it intended to breed more to fill new tanks," PETA said. "But the Commission's action today ensures that no more orcas will be condemned to a non-life of loneliness, deprivation, & misery. #SeaWorld is a sea circus & the orcas are their abused elephants. PETA wants #SeaWorld to stop building tanks & start emptying the ones they've got & send the orcas to coastal sanctuaries."

In its expansion application to the California Coastal Commission, SeaWorld had said "the orca population will not significantly increase except as may occur incrementally through sustainable population growth, with the exception of rescued orcas."

While SeaWorld officials didn't say Thursday what action they may take in light of the commission's ruling, Reilly's statement added that the park "will carefully review and consider our options."

The park has come under fire for its treatment of whales, particularly in the wake of the documentary "Blackfish," which suggested SeaWorld's treatment of captive whales provoked violent behavior. SeaWorld has countered that the documentary is “false and misleading.”