In a hearing Thursday, state senators from Washington mulled the passing of a bill banning capturing or holding killer whales for entertainment purposes.
SeaWorld is a member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. The group testified in the bill's hearing that controlled research in captive cetaceans is necessary, with most of the results of the research going into fortifying conservation efforts. Banning whales and other cetaceans in captivity then would negatively affect measures in place to protect them, argued the alliance.
Animal rights groups have been clamoring against capturing animals for entertainment for years but the practice of catching orcas drew a lot of attention after a documentary was released in 2013.
Washington itself is not home to any captive orcas but over half of the reported 455 that have lived in captivity have come from the state. Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, the bill's sponsor, urged his colleagues that the state must lead the country into questioning the capture of animals for entertainment.
Across eight countries in 14 marine parks, 57 orcas remain in captivity, with 25 in SeaWorld parks in Texas, California and Florida.
"These animals that swim thousands of miles should not be put into a fish tank; it's unacceptable," said Ranker.
An hour of testimony was heard by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Parks relating to the ban to capture orcas, or killer whales, and other cetaceans like porpoises and dolphins but when their vote will be made has not been scheduled. To be sent to the floor, members of the committee must first approve of the bill.
In the meantime, animal rights groups are pushing for a 7,000-pound killer whale named Lolita to be freed. She was captured in 1970 and has been living for the last 44 years in one of the smallest tanks inside the Miami Seaquarium. Lolita was assigned as endangered earlier in the week, after a successful petition from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This puts the killer whale a step closer towards being potentially released back into the wild.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average male orca can live up to 30 to 60 years. Females, on the other hand, thrive longer, living up to 100. But only if they are in the wild. In captivity, killer whales have shorter lifespans.
Animal rights groups believe it's possible to observe orcas in their natural habitat for educational purposes.