Orcas at Sea World

During a night performance at Shamu Stadium, a trainer signals to orca killer whales at Sea World, San Diego, CA on March 20, 2014. In the aftermath of the documentary "Blackfish," Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) passed an amendment on Thursday, June 12, 2014, directing the USDA to update the rules protecting captive orcas and other marine mammals. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times / March 20, 2014)

In a bipartisan decision Thursday, U.S. Congress took a step to change how orcas are kept in captivity, a debate propelled by the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which tells the story of Tilikum, a 12,000-pound killer-whale who killed Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) passed an added amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Act requiring the United States Department of Agriculture to conduct and update science research necessary to meet Animal Welfare Act regulations on captivity of orcas and cetaceans, or marine mammals.

The amendment would give $1 million to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, requiring the agency to update and finalize captive marine mammal regulations established 20 years ago.

“For almost 20 years, USDA has failed to review and update the Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive orcas and other marine mammals,” Schiff and Huffman said in a prepared statement. “These rules certainly should have been revised in light of new data 12 years ago when USDA opened up the rule-making process. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball, so it’s time to try again.”

“Our amendment reminds USDA that inaction is unacceptable. The American people want to see these regulations reviewed and updated to reflect the growing scientific and public concern about the effect of captivity on these animals,” the representatives said.



The USDA recognized the need to revise the regulations 20 years ago, Schiff said.

“I have serious concerns about the psychological and physical harm to orcas and other large marine mammals in captivity,” Schiff said. “Isolating these animals, which can travel hundreds of miles in a day in the wild and which live in large, complex social groupings, in a small enclosure is troubling. There is substantial evidence that orcas in captivity live much shorter lives than those in the wild and display high levels of stress and aberrant behavior.”

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Follow Nicole Charky on Twitter: @Nicosharki.

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