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Washington Senate Introduces Preemptive Ban Against Cetacean Captivity

Photo courtesy of Christine Caruso

On Thursday, the Washington Senate introduced a bill (SB5666) which would preemptively prohibit holding cetaceans in captivity for entertainment purposes. There are currently no captive cetaceans in the state, and Washingtonians would like to keep it that way.

SB5666 would prohibit capturing or importing whales, dolphins and porpoises into the state It would also ban breeding or importing/exporting embryo for breeding purposes.

The exceptions to the bill would include rescue and rehabilitation. Those animals rescued and rehabilitated would have to be either returned to the wild or held in a sea pen.

Three panels presented at the hearing. Two panels were in favor of the bill and one panel of industry advocates opposed.

The first panel included Grace Campbell, a 13-year old advocate who first became interested in the fight against captivity after watching a Blackfish trailer in her science class. She talked about how she has researched on her own and learned more about collapsed dorsal fins, broken teeth, aggression and bad breeding practices of captive killer whales.

Campbell was followed by Ralph Munro, former Secretary of State in Washington. He said he felt that Washington would be "setting the best example" by passing the bill.

Next was Anna Gullickson, seaplane pilot for Kenmore Air and co-founder of Wild Orca. Anna regularly sees orcas when flying over the pacific Northwest and said that nothing has made her respect, appreciate, honor and educate herself until she saw them in the wild.

Last on the first panel was former SeaWorld orca trainer Carol Ray. Carol shared personal experiences of disturbing incidents that she witnessed during her time at SeaWorld including watching Kanduke ramming himself, later to die of mosquito-borne encephalitis, and Kalina (Baby Shamu) being taken from Katina (her mother) at only four years old.

The next panel was representatives for the captivity industry including Kathleen Dezio, Executive Director of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, Rita Irwin of Dolphin Research Center and William Hurley, Marine Mammal Biologist and former Chief Zoological Officer at Georgia Aquarium. It is not clear why this panel attended the hearing since they are not representing any park in the state, but rather using the same tired arguments to justify the captivity industry in general.

The final panel began with Dr. Deborah Giles, orca biologist and founding member of Salish Sea Association of Marine Naturalists. Giles supports the bill because it recognizes biological and social needs to whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Dr. Naomi Rose, Animal Welfare Institute's marine mammal scientist, was next on the panel stating that AB5666 gives Washington the opportunity to "be a leader amongst the 50 states to pass progressive legislation."

The final presenter was mother and Seattle kindergarten teacher, Christine Caruso. She shares that in her experience, children do not need to see orcas and dolphins to love them and learn about them. She teachers about cetaceans in her classroom, and many of her students have a love for the animals without ever seeing them.

Senator Kevin Ranker, the prime sponsor of the bill, compared captivity to a fish tank the size of the Washington Senate floor. He states that within the approximately 230 orcas who have been captured, only 55 are still alive today. According to typical lifespans, they should all still be alive.

Senator Christine Rolfes also showed her support of the bill stating that Washingtonians have access to view wild animals and having them in captivity would cheapen that experience.

The committee has until February 20 to vote on the bill. If it passes by that date, it will move to the Senate floor. If it passes in the Senate, it will go to the House where a similar process will take place. That process will be wrapped up at the end of March. If the bill passes in the House it will go to the Governor.

The entire hearing can be seen here.

Ocean Advocate News will continue to follow the latest development of SB5666.

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