SeaWorld is fighting back on orca breeding ban

New SeaWorld whale pool approved -- with breeding ban
New SeaWorld whale pool approved -- with breeding ban

SeaWorld is fighting for the right to breed its killer whales in California.

SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) vowed this week to pursue legal action against the California officials who slapped SeaWorld with a breeding ban.

Earlier this month, the California Coastal Commission approved SeaWorld's $100 million plan to expand its whale habitat. SeaWorld now has the green light to expand its tanks in San Diego to 9.6 million gallons from 5.8 million. The new exhibit would be called The Blue World.

But the commission included a caveat: SeaWorld cannot breed the 11 orcas in captivity in California.

Animal rights activists, including Pamela Anderson of PETA, cheered the decision.

SeaWorld described the ban as "overreaching" because animal welfare is governed by federal and state laws, not the California Coastal Commission.

"By imposing broad new jurisdiction over all future SeaWorld marine animal projects, as well as aquarium projects elsewhere in the state, the Commission has overstepped both federal and California law," SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said.

The company said it's "strictly regulated" by the federal government and undergoes inspections by federal veterinarians.

Related: California killer whales are getting lonely

SeaWorld San Diego has 11 orcas, ranging in age from one to 50. All but three were born in captivity. SeaWorld's plans to expand the tanks are supposed to address the criticism that orcas don't have enough elbow (fin) room.

SeaWorld has taken a major hit since the 2013 release of the CNN documentary "Blackfish."

Attendance at SeaWorld theme parks suffered this summer, and its stock hasn't really recovered from a precipitous plunge last year.

"Blackfish" begins by showing the unseemly practice of capturing orca babies in the 1970s and casts SeaWorld in a harsh light for raising the whales in dark and cramped conditions. The film blames SeaWorld for causing one killer whale, Tilikum, to become a psychotic killer. Tilikum has sired 21 calves, but killed three people, including the SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.

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