Miami-Dade County

Florida bill would ban orca shows, breeding

A SeaWorld trainer in Orlando performs with a killer whale in 2010.
A SeaWorld trainer in Orlando performs with a killer whale in 2010. AP

Nearly two years ago, SeaWorld announced it would stop breeding killer whales in its facilities.

Now a new bill introduced in the Florida House of Representatives plans on holding SeaWorld to its word, aiming to statutorily ban the breeding or shows of killer whales throughout the state, following in the footsteps of the California Legislature.

The Florida Orca Protection Act was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, on the first day of the 2018 legislative session. Moskowitz says his bill was joined by a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, but no companion bill was found on the Senate’s website Wednesday evening.

House Bill 1305 would make it illegal, beginning in July 2018, to hold an orca in captivity for entertainment purposes. It goes on to say that any orca located in the state on July 1, 2018, would be allowed to continue being held in captivity for entertainment purposes until December 31, 2019 — “and may be used thereafter for educational presentations only.”

Moskowitz defines educational presentations as a live display that provides “science-based education to the public” and includes “natural behaviors, enrichment, exercise activities and live narration and video content, a significant portion of which features orcas in the wild.”

“I think the public has made the decision that going and seeing the performance of orcas, that day has come and gone,” Moskowitz said.

For Lori Marino, the president of the Whale Sanctuary Project, the bill is a step in the right direction — although she remains wary of an apparent loophole in the bill’s text differentiating between entertainment and education.

“It is a gray area,” she said. “One would have to define what entertainment is versus an educational display.”

SeaWorld’s Orlando park houses six orcas, and the Miami Seaquarium is home to one, Lolita, the subject of frequent protests from activists. The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” caused a tidal shift in the perception of orca captivity.

After a lifetime in captivity, the window for freeing Lolita, the Miami Seaquarium's star orca, may be closed, activists say. As the campaign to free her continues to rage, they question whether freeing Lolita is in her best interest.

SeaWorld views the legislation as a distraction.

“Given we’ve already made this change, the legislation is unneeded and distracts from the great work being done to positively impact Florida’s wildlife,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our work with the Florida legislature, and conservation leaders throughout the state, on meaningful conservation and animal welfare initiatives.”

But Moskowitz said it was important to hold SeaWorld accountable and draw a line in the sand in the event of future orca captures by other companies.

“I applaud them for their efforts, but they didn’t do that voluntarily, they did that because the public demanded them to do that and the business model has changed,” he said.