When California Assemblyman Richard Bloom introduced a bill that would bring an end to Shamu shows at SeaWorld, he probably didn’t expect it to succeed. But in shelving the whole issue for a year so there can be more “study”, the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee has at least left open the possibility of reconsidering it next year.
SeaWorld hired one of California’s most successful lobbyists, Scott Wetch, whom the L.A. Times has described as “blunt, shrewd and intimidating,” to do the rounds of committee members in advance of the hearing.
His basic strategy was to scare them into considering how the economy would take a big hit if the ban were approved.Wetch lined up support from the California Association of Zoos & Aquariums and the California Retailers Association. His basic strategy was to warn the committee of the dire consequences of approving the bill, and to scare them into considering how the economy would take a big hit if the ban were approved – and how this would affect them at the polls.
“If you ban them [the orcas], you buy them,” he told legislators at the hearing, adding that the bill would lead to litigation over an illegal taking of property, and that SeaWorld might simply move all the orcas to one of its other facilities.
SeaWorld officials underlined this by saying that their San Diego shows attracted 4.6 million visitors last year and that they pay the city $14 million annually to lease the property.
Wetch was delighted with the outcome. “The bill was laughable in its lack of sophistication,” he said.
Among those speaking for the orcas at the hearing were former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove and marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose. Their presentations, by contrast, were about the interests and concerns of the orcas rather than the economy. Orcas are among the most magnificent creatures on the planet, with unique cognitive and communication abilities, and living in close-knit family groups.
Hargrove explained how the orcas live in a “horrible, sterile environment” where they develop obsessive behaviors, like chewing on the steel bars, that result in physical injuries. (Watch his whole testimony here.)
And Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who introduced the bill, talked about how orcas are among the most magnificent creatures on the planet with unique cognitive and communication abilities, who live in close-knit family groups.
But the interests of the orcas could never be a match for the the business interests of a multi-billion-dollar corporation and its value to the City of San Diego’s tourist industry.
And while Chairman Anthony Rendon supported the bill, along with one other member of the committee, they would have needed at least six more votes, so there was no point in even having a roll call. Instead, Rendon invited the bill’s proponents to come back next year after more studies have been done.
Footnote: Helping to drum up support for SeaWorld before the hearing, Sean Hannity of Fox News devoted a segment of his nightly show to the issue.
One of the two guests was Lisa Lange of PETA, and in the video, you see Hannity begin by asking her if the acronym PETA stands for “People Eating Tasty Animals.” (Wow, Sean, that’s hilarious.) For the rest of the interview, Hannity behaves like a cheap bully. Lange keeps her cool and makes her points. Kudos to her.
All of which suggests that if these are the depths to which SeaWorld supporters feel they have to sink in order to keep their show on the road, that really says a mouthful.
Second Footnote: Meanwhile, the debate over keeping orcas in captivity now moves to Canada, where two park board commissioners say the Vancouver aquarium should not be holding whales or dolphins. The issue will likely end up on the local election ballot this fall.
Very simply, the entire topic of marine circuses is not going away!