Captive Orcas, Dolphins Gain New Federal Protections

An orca breaching during a show at Sea World San Diego.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released a proposed federal rule to improve standards for the handling, care and housing of captive marine mammals.
The long-discussed protections, in the works for nearly two decades, would amend Animal Welfare Act regulations concerning captive marine mammals, with a focus on orcas (also called
killer whales) and dolphins. As for any major changes, there is now a 60-day period where the USDA will accept commentary, but the regulations are expected to go into effect.
“It is an important animal welfare step, at a time when the nation is questioning more than ever if cetaceans should be put on display at all in captive environments at for-profit ventures,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the U.S., said in a statement.
The USDA proposed rule would affect certain sections in the regulations for the protection of all marine mammals in the United States relating to space requirements, water quality, indoor facilities, outdoor facilities, and interactive programs, like “swim with the dolphin” businesses. The USDA is basically saying that it will now oversee these programs again.
“Interactive programs like these have carried on with no federal oversight for over 15 years since the USDA suspended its enforcement efforts in 1999,” Pacelle said. “We applaud this step because these interactive programs present significant risk to the health and wellbeing of the animals as well as to humans.”
It is widely believed that the new protections are merely steps toward the ultimate goal of ending the exploitation of captive marine mammals for entertainment and business profit gains. They follow California Coastal Commission actions last year, which approved SeaWorld’s plan to expand its San Diego orca pools, but only on the condition that the company does not breed any more orcas at its facility and does not transfer or import any orcas in and out of the facility.