Should Florida Lawmakers Enact SeaWorld's Promise Law?

January 20, 2018

Public backlash over the 2013 documentary Blackfish had a direct impact on how Orlando-based SeaWorld conducts business. The film brought attention to the physical and psychological effect captivity has on killer whales. In 2016, SeaWorld made a pledge to no longer breed orcas, use them for entertainment, or capture and train additional killer whales. While this change was completely voluntary, some Florida lawmakers are concerned the policy may be reversed if not reinforced by law.

Florida State Representative Jared Moskowitz from Coral Springs introduced the Florida Orca Protection Act to the House on January 12th. If passed the bill would make it illegal to hold orcas in captivity for any purpose. Breeding and transporting captive orcas would also be illegal. Orcas already in captivity would be grandfathered in. SeaWorld owns six of the seven captive orcas in Florida along with ten in San Diego, CA and five in San Antonio, TX. In 2016, the California legislature passed a similar law making the existing orcas there the last generation in captivity in the state.

Those against the bill don’t find it necessary and see it as a distraction stating that the company’s promise should suffice. SeaWorld as a company has been suffering financially in recent years, which is leading supporters of the bill to push for the legislation. The concern is that SeaWorld would go back on its promise and once again begin breeding orcas and training them to perform. Part of this concern comes from changes in the company’s leadership. Chinese investment firm Zhonghong Zhuoye Group now owns 21% of SeaWorld and has placed 2 members on the company’s board, one as Chairman. In China the aquarium industry is booming and the country has 55 marine-themed parks in operation today with another 27 slated to open over the next few years. The concern is that without the law, financial pressure could change SeaWorld’s policy in the future.

In October of 2017 SeaWorld cut 350 jobs throughout the company, many of which were in Orlando. This was part of an effort to save $40 million through 2018. Attendance during the first half of 2017 had over 350,000 fewer visitors compared to the first half of 2016. The company currently employs 5,000 full-time and 8,300 part-time Floridians.

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