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SANTA MONICA, California (Reuters) - The SeaWorld San Diego marine theme park would be required to end its popular live performances of killer whales under legislation proposed on Friday, which would also ban captive breeding, imports and exports of orcas in California.
The measure was introduced by state Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who said his interest in the issue was sparked by last year's documentary "Blackfish," which deals with the treatment of killer whales at SeaWorld parks.
The film, which SeaWorld described as distorted animal rights propaganda, explores circumstances leading to the 2010 incident in which a top SeaWorld trainer was killed by an orca with whom she worked and performed in Florida.
The film concludes that keeping killer whales penned up in captivity is inherently cruel and that SeaWorld has persisted in the practice because orcas are the primary attraction in the highly lucrative theme park business.
"There is no justification for the continued display of orcas for entertainment purposes," Bloom said in remarks prepared for the bill's unveiling. "These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives."
SeaWorld, which also operates marine parks in Orlando, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas, declined to comment on Bloom's legislation before reviewing it.
But the company said the individuals "he has chosen to associate with for today's press conference are well-known extreme animal rights activists, many of whom regularly campaign against SeaWorld and other accredited marine mammal parks and institutions."
Joining Bloom at a news conference announcing his bill were Naomi Rose, a marine mammal biologist with the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of "Blackfish," and two former trainers.
SeaWorld San Diego is home to 10 killer whales, seven of which were born in captivity. It is the only facility in California with orcas on display and thus the only one immediately affected by Bloom's bill.
SeaWorld has denied mistreating any killer whales and points to its involvement in marine mammal research, conservation, rescue and public education.
While the precise language has not been finalized, the legislation is expected to allow the continued display of the whales in a large tank in San Diego, said Sean MacNeil, chief of staff for Bloom.
Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Gunna Dickson