SAN DIEGO -- A California congressman announced Friday that he is planning federal legislation that aims to phase out the captivity of killer whales by banning breeding, importing and exporting the animals for public display.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said he will introduce the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act to ensure that orcas now at aquatic parks such as SeaWorld (SEAS) are the last ones and that when they die, no other whales will replace them.
The bill also would ban taking any whales from the wild. Although no orca has been captured in U.S. waters since 1976, Schiff says captive killer whales are bred.
He argues that keeping the animals in captivity is cruel.
"The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display," Schiff said at a news conference in Santa Monica.
SeaWorld says its whales are thriving and the parks foster understanding of the animals.
"While efforts to phase out whales in human care may strike an emotional chord, SeaWorld and other science-based organizations are part of the solution, not the problem," Jill Kermes, a spokeswoman for SeaWorld Entertainment, said in a statement.
Schiff's proposal was applauded by animal-welfare activists, with Jared Goodman, director of animal law at the PETA Foundation saying the bill "reflects public opinion in favor of ending the archaic and cruel practice of keeping orcas in captivity."
Last month, the California Coastal Commission endorsed a $100 million expansion of the tanks SeaWorld uses to hold orcas in San Diego but included conditions, including a ban on breeding and prohibitions on the sale, trade or transfer of the whales.
SeaWorld has said it will challenge the ruling in court.
On Thursday, the company reported its net income rose more than 12 percent in the third quarter, while revenues increased 0.2 percent to $496.9 million from the year-ago period.
Visitation, though, at the Orlando company's 11 parks continues to be mixed.
Attendance at SeaWorld's 11 parks fell by 0.4 percent to 8.371 million, SeaWorld reported.