Quantcast

The Blackfish Effect: 40 Members of Congress Call on USDA to Revise Rules for Captive Marine Mammals

The tide of public opinion appears to be taking a serious turn against marine parks like SeaWorld as concerns about the consequences of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity continue to grow. Now members of Congress have added fuel to the fire with a letter criticizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to address regulatory upgrades for marine mammals in captivity for almost two decades.

An orca whale jumping at the Shamu-show in Sea World, Orlando, FL. Photo credit: milanboers /Flickr Creative Commons

In a bipartisan letter sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Congressmen Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and 38 members of Congress called on the agency to take immediate action to adopt long-overdue rules addressing the care of captive marine mammals.

“Sound, modern science should inform our regulations on marine mammal captivity,” said Rep. Huffman and Rep. Schiff in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, USDA has refused to act for nearly two decades, endangering humans and orcas alike. It’s unacceptable that our regulations protecting orcas and other marine mammals have not been updated to reflect the latest science. It is past time for USDA to address this issue.”

According to the letter, in 1995 a committee advised the USDA on revisions for marine mammals regulations, but it never came to a consensus for sections about indoor and outdoor facilities, water quality, space requirements and swim-with-the-dolphin programs.

In 2002, the USDA asked the public to weigh in on proposed updates to standards for the care of captive marine mammals and received input from “the animal exhibitor industry, animal welfare groups, scientific community and the public” recommending improvements. Yet, 12 years later it still hasn’t taken any action to update regulations or implement changes.

Animal advocates have been raising concerns about the facilities and conditions whales and dolphins are kept in at marine parks and aquariums for decades, citing complaints that range from insufficient protection from the sun, hazards in the environment and tanks that are too small or don’t meet minimum standards for size.

One well known case is Lolita’s; advocates argue that Lolita is being kept in a tank that’s not just too small for an animal her size, but illegally small under federal guidelines, at the Miami Seaquarium.

In their letter, lawmakers also noted the increase in attention these issues are getting, thanks in part to the documentary Blackfish, which they point out “argues that keeping orcas in captivity and regularly requiring them to perform for the public is cruel and causes enormous physical and psychological pain.”

According to the results of two recent opinion polls, public sentiment is shifting against captivity for public display, particularly for orcas, to reflect what we’ve learned about the dark side of the industry and the harmful effects removing them from their family groups and denying them the opportunity to engage in natural behaviors.

A poll commissioned by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) shows that half of Americans now oppose keeping orcas in captivity, while only 21 percent were in favor. According to AWI, there was a significant increase of 11 percentage points in the number of Americans opposed, as well as a 5 point drop in those expressing support since the last opinion poll was conducted in 2012.

“It is clear from the poll that the arguments supporting the maintenance of orcas in captivity have lost their luster and are increasingly failing to convince the American public of the value of this practice,” Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDC, said in a statement. “The poll clearly indicates the public’s ever-growing disaffection with captivity.”

Fortunately, opinions aren’t just changing in the U.S. A similar poll conducted in May on behalf of responsibletravel.com and the Born Free Foundation also showed that the majority of British tourists are crossing seeing whale and dolphin shows off of their vacation to do lists. A whopping 86 percent of people surveyed said “they would not wish to visit a marine park to see whales and dolphins as part of an overseas holiday.”

SeaWorld continues to deny the Blackfish effect and the growing public opposition, but people are protesting, artists are refusing to perform there, its attendance and profits are dropping and major shareholders are getting out.

With lawmakers pushing on one side and the public pushing on the other, long-overdue change is in the air, or really the water, for the captivity industry. Members of Congress are now urging the USDA to take swift action to update humane standards of care for marine mammals to reflect the latest science by bringing the proposed rule back to the public for comment and quickly finalizing it.

--------

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Sea World Responds to Blackfish Documentary, Sea Shepherd Sets the Record Straight

Shocking Court Documents Expose Sea World's Continued Cruelty to Orca Whales 

Blackfish Director Challenges Sea World to Debate

--------

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Wesley Martinez Da Costa / EyeEm / Getty Images

By David R. Montgomery

Would it sound too good to be true if I was to say that there was a simple, profitable and underused agricultural method to help feed everybody, cool the planet, and revitalize rural America? I used to think so, until I started visiting farmers who are restoring fertility to their land, stashing a lot of carbon in their soil, and returning healthy profitability to family farms. Now I've come to see how restoring soil health would prove as good for farmers and rural economies as it would for the environment.

Read More Show Less
skaman306 / Moment / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Radish (Raphanus sativus) is a cruciferous vegetable that originated in Asia and Europe (1Trusted Source).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Tinnakorn Jorruang / iStock / Getty Images

By Dan Nosowitz

The budding research on cannabidiol, or CBD, attracts a great deal of interest in the agricultural field.

Read More Show Less
Oksana Khodakovskaia / iStock / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a tree native to China that's prized for its sweet, citrus-like fruit.

Read More Show Less

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new numbers that show vaping-related lung illnesses are continuing to grow across the country, as the number of fatalities has climbed to 33 and hospitalizations have reached 1,479 cases, according to a CDC update.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
During the summer, the Arctic tundra is usually a thriving habitat for mammals such as the Arctic fox. Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Reports of extreme snowfall in the Arctic might seem encouraging, given that the region is rapidly warming due to human-driven climate change. According to a new study, however, the snow could actually pose a major threat to the normal reproductive cycles of Arctic wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Vegan rice and garbanzo beans meals. Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.

Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.

Read More Show Less
A fracking well looms over a residential area of Liberty, Colorado on Aug. 19. WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

A new multiyear study found that people living or working within 2,000 feet, or nearly half a mile, of a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site may be at a heightened risk of exposure to benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to research released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)

Read More Show Less