LONG BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) - Californian authorities on Thursday agreed to allow SeaWorld San Diego to expand its orca habitat on the condition that it ceases its captive breeding program, despite calls for the whales to be released from captivity.
The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to give SeaWorld San Diego a permit to build two new orca pools, giving the mammals greater room to swim while enhancing viewing and research.
About 650 people both for and against the new permits attended the vote, which was held at a convention center in Long Beach to accommodate the public interest.
The commission’s approval came with the condition that SeaWorld not engage in any more captive breeding, whether through natural means or artificial insemination, a restriction SeaWorld called disappointing.
“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,” the theme park said in a statement after the vote.
The company added it would “carefully review and consider our options.”
SeaWorld has faced heated criticism and declining business since the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” presented a dim view of how the company treated orcas.
As of last month the commission had received more than 120,000 emails from people about the project, most coming from people opposing it, commission spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz said.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) hailed the ruling as a step toward ending orca captivity in California.
“The California Coastal Commission did right by orcas in requiring, as a condition of approval for the Blue World Project, that SeaWorld stop breeding them, which will ultimately end captivity for long-suffering orcas in California,” PETA Foundation Director of Animal Law Jared Goodman said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Victoria Cavaliere and Stephen Coates