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SeaWorld sues California Coastal Commission over orca breeding ban

By Shawn Price   |   Dec. 30, 2015 at 5:54 AM

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- SeaWorld Entertainment is suing the California Coastal Commission over a ban on breeding killer whales at its San Diego park.

The ban was part of the commission's approval of a permit in October to allow the embattled theme park chain to expand its killer whale exhibit. SeaWorld announced a week later it would fight the ruling.

The theme park argued the commission doesn't have jurisdiction over the welfare of animals and being unable to breed killer whales in captivity would inevitably end the killer whale shows, a victory the park is unwilling to concede to animal rights activists.

"The coastal commission has neither the legal jurisdiction nor, accordingly, the expertise, to dictate the care, feeding or breeding of animals held solely in captivity under human care," the suit stated.

"The coastal commission is not the overseer of all activity that takes place in the coastal zone -- its jurisdiction extends only to the regulation of development that affects the coastal or marine environment, including public access thereto."

Called the Blue World Project, the proposal would replace the park's current 1.7 million-gallon killer whale facility with a 450,000 pool and 5.2-million gallon tank.

"The [California Coastal Commission's] jurisdiction over marine mammals is expansive," said Jared Goodman, animal law director for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, after October's ruling. "Although the Coastal Act focuses on protecting open spaces and wildlife in their native state, it contains no limiting language that excludes captive wildlife."

SeaWorld's CEO Joel Manby told investors the Blue World project could be postponed indefinitely due to the commission's ruling and to declining attendance at its theme parks since the 2013 documentary Blackfish accused SeaWorld of animal abuse.

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