SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - SeaWorld Entertainment Inc said on Thursday that it intended to challenge a decision by California authorities banning the San Diego theme park from breeding killer whales in captivity.
The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously last week to give SeaWorld San Diego a permit to build two larger orca pools on the condition that it ceases its captive breeding program.
"The Coastal Commission went way beyond its jurisdiction and authority when it banned breeding by killer whales at SeaWorld," SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said in a written statement.
"To say that this is a dubious decision with no legal basis is an understatement, which is why we must and will challenge the commission's decision."
The California Coastal Commission declined to comment.
SeaWorld had sought approval from the commission to build bigger tanks for the orcas in a move some said was in response to ongoing criticism over how the theme park treats animals in captivity.
The plan to expand the pools drew opposition from tens of thousands of people who wanted to see the park's population of 11 orcas released instead.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund said in an emailed statement it was no surprise that SeaWorld intended to mount a legal challenge to the breeding restriction.
"SeaWorld's objection to the de facto phase-out of the use of orcas for entertainment acts in San Diego punctuates the entertainment company's priority on dollars over the well-being of the orcas off of whom it profits," it said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said SeaWorld was "blowing smoke."
Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego and Mansi Goenka in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr, Victoria Cavaliere