California Legislation to Ban Orca Captivity

By Ric O’Barry
Dolphin Project


I am at the Cove in Taiji, Japan, working to stop the slaughter of dolphins and see if I can get into the Taiji Whale Museum to examine Angel to see if she is OK.  So I missed the press conference held today in Santa Monica by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, an outstanding environmental legislator who represents the city of Santa Monica and other local cities in the California State Assembly.

Assemblymember Bloom, in response to the hard-hitting documentaryBlackfish, has introduced a sweeping bill, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act (AB 2140), in the California state legislature to outlaw orca shows in California, outlaw import of any orcas, end breeding or trading of orca sperm (for breeding purposes), and require captive orcas to be retired to sea pens or be kept for display only – no more stupid circus acts. 

The whole idea is to phase out orca captivity in California.

“There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes,” Assemblymember Bloom explained.  “These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives.  It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement.”

I knew back in 1969 that legislation like this should pass.  I trained the first orca, named Hugo, held in a dolphinarium on the east coast.  I knew then that Hugo and other orcas did not belong in captivity, and I walked away from my job at the Miami Seaquarium.  Hugo later died by smashing his head against the side of his tank.  His tank mate then was Lolita, who has been alone in her tank ever since, except for a few companion dolphins, in the smallest orca tank in the US.  Our colleague orca researchers in the Pacific Northwest know Lolita’s pod, and rehabbing and releasing her in that area is very feasible.



Ric on top of Hugo the orca in Miami Seaquarium.




Keiko in Iceland having a blast.


 I worked on establishing a ban on dolphin and orca captivity in South Carolina in 1992.  Despite strong opposition from SeaWorld, other marine parks and the federal National Marine Fisheries Service, that landmark law still stands.  The legislative sponsor was Alex Harvin, and it was signed into law by Governor Carroll Campbell, both Republicans.   The government of Maui in the Hawaiian Islands also banned dolphinariums.

A recent proclamation by the Malibu City Council recognizes dolphins and other cetaceans as “nonhuman persons” and bans captivity in that city. 

“In their natural habitat orcas are family-oriented, highly adaptable, socially-complex with cultural traditions and trail only humans as the most intelligent creatures on this planet.  However, in captivity, they have shorter lifespans, show increased health problems, live in swimming pool sized habitat that are approximately one ten-thousandth the required size and demonstrate aggressive behavior towards one another and towards humans that has never been documented in the wild.  They simply do not belong in captivity,” Assemblymember Bloom added.

Bloom concluded: ““If we truly want to help orca conservation, we should focus our efforts on restoring habitat in the wild and protecting our oceans.”

Assemblymember Bloom has taken the lead on other environmental issues as well.  For example, he is working to ban the use of small plastic beads in skin care products.  These plastic beads wind up in the ocean, where they contribute to the terrible problem of floating plastic pollution.  He also carried a successful bill to protect bobcats in California last year.

At present, the only dolphinarium in California with orcas is SeaWorld in San Diego, although the Six Flags Discovery Park in Vallejo, CA, has had orcas in the past (they shipped their last orca to SeaWorld San Diego a few years ago).  You can bet that SeaWorld will pull out all stops to block this legislation.

We will have more information on how you can help this legislation pass in California.

For now, you can contact Assemblymember Richard Bloom, expressing your support for the bill and thank him for introducing this legislation, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act (AB 2140):

Assemblymember Richard Bloom
State Capitol
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0050

Fax: (916) 319-2150

Email Form:

If you live in California, you can contact your own member of the Assembly and state Senate, urging them to support the Orca Welfare and Safety Act (AB 2140).  They can sign on as co-sponsors, and of course can vote in favor of the bill when it comes to them.

You can find your California Assemblymember and state Senator here.

Members will have websites you can access with addresses to send letters, faxes, and emails.

Thank you, Assemblymember Richard Bloom!  Your support for freedom for orcas is very much appreciated!


Photos of Tilikum in a scene from BLACKFISH, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

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About Ric O'Barry

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Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project Founder & Director has worked on both sides of the captive dolphin issue, making him an invaluable asset in the efforts to end exploitation. He worked for 10 years within the dolphin captivity industry, and has spent the past 40 working against it.

In the 1960s, O’Barry was employed by the Miami Seaquarium, where he captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. He also trained Hugo, the first orca kept in captivity east of the Mississippi. When Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.

From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he launched a searing campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry and has been going at it ever since.

Over the past 40 years, Ric O’Barry has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas Islands and the United States. He is a leading voice in the fight to end brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, and wherever else they occur.

O’Barry has been recognized by many national and international entities for his dedicated efforts, such as being voted Huffington Post’s 2010 Most Influential Green Game Changer, and being listed on O Magazine’s 2010 Power List – Men We Admire for his “Power of Passion.” O’Barry received an Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program. He has done countless interviews with such prestigious news programs as Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, the Mike Huckabee Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989; a second book, To Free A Dolphin was published in September 2000. Both of them are about his work and dedication. He is the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove and the Animal Planet television series Blood Dolphin$.

Author: Ric O'Barry


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