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SeaWorld mainAerial view of SeaWorld San Diego | Credit: f8grapher/Shutterstock

SeaWorld San Diego Breeding Project Barred

A state panel has approved SeaWorld's expansion plan under the condition that the entertainment group discontinues its breeding programme

Animal rights activists celebrated a victory on Thursday, after the California Coastal Commission moved to ban SeaWorld's highly controversial breeding programme and to restrict the movement of animals between parks.

California's commissioners gathered at the Long Beach Convention Center to unanimously vote on Sea World's 'Blue World Project', a proposal to expand the size of tanks in the parks. The all-day meeting attracted supporters and critics of the Sea World entertainment group from across the country.

Commissioner Dayna Bonchco, who introduced the amendment, told the panel that orcas didn't belong in captivity. 'I can approve this project but only with conditions,' she said.

A halt of the breeding programme would mean that the 11 orcas currently held at the San Diego facility would be the park's last captive orcas. 

SeaWorld officials said they were disappointed by the vote and that they will review the decision and consider options.

'Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal's life,' the statement said, 'and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane.'

The $100m plan would triple the size of the orca enclosures, but opponents said those plans were not be enough.

'Captivity is still captivity no matter how gentle the jailer,' said John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer and author of the anti-captivity book Beneath the Surface.

Dr. Ingrid Visser, a marine biologist and head of the Orca Research Trust in New Zealand, slammed the project saying that wild orcas swim an average distance of 138 miles per day and dive to depths of about 600 feet. 

'These new tanks do not meet these basic requirements,' she said. 'No facility ever will.'

The 'Blue Project' proposal came as a response to the critically acclaimed 2013 documentary Blackfish and a subsequent fall in both park attendance and stock market value.

Although Thursday's vote allows SeaWorld to replace an existing 1.7-million-gallon tank with a new 450,000-gallon tank and a second 5.2-million-gallon tank, the decision is another blow for the entertainment group. The ruling is limited to the California park at this stage but marks another step towards the end of cetacean captivity. 

It remains unclear whether SeaWorld will try to overturn the vote or will dismiss its expansion plans altogether, so that it can continue its current breeding programme. 

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