California lawmakers sidestep bill on SeaWorld shows until after elections

SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 8 Tue Apr 8, 2014 4:31pm EDT

SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 8 (Reuters) - A closely watched measure that would ban SeaWorld from using killer whales to perform tricks in famed "Shamu" shows at its California park was effectively killed on Tuesday, as state lawmakers called for more research.

The bill to ban orca shows and breeding programs at parks in California was introduced by state Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Santa Monica Democrat, who has said he was inspired by the documentary film, "Blackfish," which tells the story of an orca that killed a trainer at SeaWorld's park in Orlando, Florida, in 2010.

The decision to send the bill back for further study allows the state assembly to sidestep a tough issue in an election year because the study will not be complete until the middle of next year - after the November Congressional and statewide elections and during a new legislative session.

It also removes incoming Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, a Democrat, from the uncomfortable position of being caught between liberal supporters and SeaWorld, which provides thousands of jobs in her home district of San Diego.

"Many committee members are simply unprepared to make a decision on this bill," said Bloom, who does not serve on the Water, Parks and Recreation committee where the bill was being considered on Tuesday.

Before sending the bill for further study, the committee heard impassioned testimony from animal rights activists who packed its hearing room in the state capitol in Sacramento.

"I flew from Rome, Italy, to support this bill," said Daniela Boer, 46. "'Blackfish' is all over Europe."

The film, released last year, shows what supporters say is ill treatment of the animals at SeaWorld parks, including the separation of young orcas from their mothers despite the animals' social and matriarchal nature.

SeaWorld San Diego President John Reilly said the film was exaggerated. Acting in response to the film's message would "destroy all the good work that SeaWorld has done" funding marine mammal research and caring for injured sea animals through its rescue program.

A lobbyist for the company, Scott Wetch, said that if the bill passed, SeaWorld would sue the state and, rather than build new housing for the whales, would simply transfer them to other parks out of state.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc shares closed at $30.90, up 5.3 percent. (Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Phil Berlowitz)

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