Orca Ban in Theme Parks a 'Silly Bill,' Sea World Says

Orcas during a show at the Shamu Up Close attraction at Sea World in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 7, 2014. (Credit: Joshua C. Cruey/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images)

A proposal to ban killer whales from performing in California theme parks is a "silly, silly bill," a spokesman for Sea World said today, and he warned the state legislature that "if you ban them, you buy them."

Scott Wetch, a lobbyist representing Sea World, spoke today at a committee hearing about a bill proposed last month by State Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a measure backed by Animal Welfare Institute. Bloom told the Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee that current practices at Sea World do not provide adequate care for the large mammals.

"They are too large and far too intelligent to be held in captivity," Bloom said.

Bloom pointed to scientific evidence that captive orca whales face physical and mental health problems when held captive and forced to perform in front of the public, including misshapen fins, shortened lifespans, and stress-related aggressive behavior.

James Hargrove, a former killer whale trainer at multiple Sea World locations and at one point the highest ranking trainer of the popular Shamu, told the committee, "We simply could not give them what they needed to thrive in captivity."

Hargrove said he witnessed captive killer whales display compulsive behavior such as banging their heads against enclosures and picking and eating paint from the walls. He also recounted an incident when a whale grabbed him and pulled him under the water.

But executives from Sea World as well as other aquatic life researchers argued that treatment of whales in Sea World has been sensationalized and cited "Blackfish," a documentary which shows graphic videos of mistreatment of the whales and their resulting aggression toward staff.

Wetch called Bloom's proposal a "silly, silly bill" and said that its passage would allow for the same practices to continue, but out of the view of the public.

"It's the 'don't ask don't tell' for whales," he said.

Wetch also cautioned about the economic ramifications of passing the bill. He said that aside from the cost of Sea World losing customers, the state of California would have to foot the bill for caring for the whales if the measure passed.

"If you ban them, you buy them," he said.

Assembly Chairman Anthony Rendon proposed to send the issue to interim study to give more time for researchers to present their analyses to committee members. Rendon said he expects the bill to be addressed again next year.