California Coastal Commission bans breeding at SeaWorld San Diego-What’s next for the park?

California Coastal Commission bans breeding at SeaWorld San Diego-What’s next for the park?

On Thursday, the California Coastal Commission listened to over eight hours of testimony from protesters on both sides of the SeaWorld debate. The list of speakers included experts, activists, and movie stars. The debate was over the expansion of the SeaWorld San Diego’s Orca tanks, that would take the tanks from around 4 million gallons, to a huge 10 million gallon new environment. In the end, it was a loss for SeaWorld, as the company was granted permission to build the tanks, but in doing so would accept a ban on breeding the whales, and limit the whales coming in and going out of the park. The move would essentially force the current family of 11 whales at the park into extinction, and would end the most popular attraction in the San Diego park’s line up. Of course, SeaWorld isn’t taking this lightly, and is exploring all of their options, but what exactly are those options, and what could the park do next?




The ruling is strictly for the San Diego park, and would possibly not effect the ongoing project at the other two parks in San Antonio and Orlando, although it may spark more sentiment against the project, especially if the ruling goes unchallenged. As expected, animal activists, including PETA and makers of the Anti-SeaWorld film, Blackfish are calling this a victory, and seemingly expect the park to go along with the idea. Blackfish director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite. In a quote to other news agencies, Cowperthwaite said that “”SeaWorld can no longer say this is the work of activists and the animal rights community. It was a spanking coming from a much higher level.”

Was it the voice of the people, or was it an emotional, and pressured ruling coming from politicians and business owners feeling pressure from what they feel as a threat?

It’s something that has been exhibited before, as SeaWorld Orlando faced a flurry of cancellations from bands who were scheduled to play their park in 2014 after Blackfish supporters flooded online petitions, and Facebook pages urging bands, and threatening boycotts if the bands didn’t stop. It was a short lived protest, as SeaWorld replaced the line up with bigger, more prominent bands for the same dates.

With the Commission accepting that the tanks needed to be bigger, and still placing the limitations on the park, it shows that it was more emotional, than responsible.

In an article on the site SeaWorldCares the company says:

While we appreciate the opportunity to present the Blue World Project to the California Coastal Commission, and are pleased that the Commission recognizes the benefits of SeaWorld San Diego’s Blue World Project expansion, we are disappointed with the conditions they have placed on their approval. We are carefully reviewing and considering our options.

The Blue World Project will provide a deeper appreciation and understanding of killer whales for everyone who visits SeaWorld.

Again, what are those options? Let’s take a look.

Legal Action

The quickest, and obvious choice is for the park to take legal action against the Coastal Commission and the State of California. It could be a huge win for the park, but it will have to come quickly. There was a previous bill proposed- AB2140 that also would prevent Orcas from breeding, as well as performing in shows. It would not only effect whales at SeaWorld parks, but would have effectively banned the whales from doing anything but swimming around in tanks all day. The bill was put in review, which was essentially the death of the bill. However, there is new legislation being proposed that will put more pressure on state officials to ban the animals in the state altogether. There is also the incoming speaker of the state assembly, who was a firm supporter of the bill, and rode the animal rights activist train into office. If SeaWorld doesn’t resolve the issues before the new speaker takes office, it could all be jeopardized even further.

The legal rights of the Coastal Commission in the banning of breeding are shaky at best, and it should be able to be overturned fairly easily, but would that be a solution to the problem, and would the permission to build the tanks still be granted?

Animal Relocation

Another solution is to simply move the animals to other parks before the rulings take place. The park could, (as of now) legally take the animals to different parks in the country, or even put them in the care of parks in Asia which are opening very soon. That would leave the park with no major attraction, as the killer whales are the stars of the park, and the largest draw for the marine life park.

That would lead to another option.

Rebrand the Park

Let’s say SeaWorld does remove the whales, then what? The company still has a long term lease for the land from the City of San Diego, and it is prime real estate, what would happen with the space? The company has a commitment to conservation and to the animals in Southern California. The park could be turned into a huge animal rescue, rehab and research center. It would be closed to the public, would generate very little revenue for the city and state, and would continue the SeaWorld legacy of rescue and rehabilitation that has lead to the rescue, rehab and release of over 23,000 animals.

The other option is for another member of the park chain to come in, and take over the space. The animals would be gone, but there would be rides, and a complete rebrand of the park. The park is pretty much limited to flat rides, and dark rides, so Busch Gardens would not be ideal. That chain has been concentrating on thrill rides and coasters of late. Sesame Place, however could be a great park to take over, and completely theme the park to the Sesame Street characters. There is a presence now, but the characters would take over the entire park. It would also be a huge addition for families, as Legoland California is the only other option in the area specifically for families.

Shut Down the Park

While closing the park would be an end of an era, it would not necessarily mean the end of SeaWorld. It would mean the end of SeaWorld in California, and would mean a huge blow to the Southern California economy, as the loss of revenue for San Diego, as well as the loss of jobs would be staggering. The park employs over 4,500 people, and is one of the biggest tax payers in San Diego.

The park could very well do nothing. If it does not build the tanks, then it would not have to agree to the terms set about by the Coastal Commission, and it would not have to fight. Would the fight truly end there, however? The state, and activists have created a very hostile economic climate for SeaWorld to operate in. Why would the park put more money and time into an area that has so many people wanting to shut them down, when there are plenty of other locations that would not only welcome the park, but also support it?

Let’s not forget the fact that, CEO Joel Manby has a history of shutting down under performing parks as well. When he was the CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, he made the decision of shutting down Celebration City in Branson, MO after being opened less than 10 years earlier. The park was a financial burden to the company. While the situation may be a little different in San Diego, the choices are just as hard. Manby has a proven track record of cutting ties with a property that is dragging the company under, and investing that money elsewhere.

Theoretically the company could funnel the money and animals from San Diego, and make larger habitats in both Orlando, and San Antonio. San Antonio is specifically a great area for redevelopment of the brand, as the large property area, loyal customer base, and the ever growing population of the city makes it ripe for a massive restructuring. The area could even support a huge on-site resort, something that both San Diego and Orlando do not have the space for.


Keep in mind, that none of these options are being discussed (that we know of) and that this is pure speculation on the direction of the park. We honestly hope that SeaWorld and the California Coastal Commission, as well as the state of California can come to a better agreement, and the park thrives in Southern California. So much is at stake, not for just the animals, but for the people who care for them, and work around them as well.

While the loss of the first SeaWorld park in the world would be a huge blow to the company, at first, it would mark a new beginning and direction for the company as a whole. There will be a reveal about the direction of the company in November, and it would be silly to think that the recent ruling will not play a role in that direction that the chain will take.




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  • Cameron

    They need to leave CA. Stop giving revenue to a state that is hostile toward you. When our economy takes a dump we can vote the idiots out of office who pushed for these things.

    It’s also worth noting this commission vote was the result of corruption. The vice chair, Bochco was seen after the hearing partying with high ranking PETA members. It is a conflict of interest.

  • Moggy

    If SeaWorld sues the state of California it will mean they will have to reveal and expose a lot of data that they probably don’t want the public to see, such as medical logs, feeding logs, and other damning evidence. 11 of the Commissioners voted to approve the expansion “with conditions” … if you remove those conditions they will have to have a new vote, and will probably not approve “Blue World”.
    It’s time for SeaWorld to change its outdated and “circus” approach; cetaceans do not thrive in captivity, and they don’t belong in captivity.

  • Moggy

    She was “seen” with a lot of people who thanked her for her amendment … paranoid much?

  • Moggy

    “Let’s not forget the fact that, CEO Joel Manby has a history of shutting down under performing parks as well.”
    But San Diego is SeaWorld’s biggest money-maker, isn’t it? As a native San Diegan, I find SeaWorld an embarrassment to San Diego and California… don’t let the door hit ya on the way out!

  • JimLight

    Despite the insult this article levels at the CCC, the CCC’s decision is actually very well reasoned and logical. The CCC’s decision gives the current orcas a somewhat better living environment. The ban on import, export and breeding keeps any new orcas from having to suffer under the poor conditions of orca captivity.

    SeaWorld CEO already compounded the issue in his issued statement that was parroted by the San Diego Park’s President. In this statement both deride the CCC for denying the orcas their “right” to breed. Bad move. If SeaWorld maintain orcas have “rights”, then isn’t SeaWorld guilty of denying the orcas their “right” to freedom and family? Manby painted SeaWord into yet another corner and makes SeaWorld continue to look hypocritical.

    SeaWorld is in a no win situation. If they don’t build the bigger tank, their stated motive, quality of life for the captive orcas rings hollow. If they do build it, the new tank will be empty once the last current orca passes or is move. If they sue the CCC, they will continue to have the orca cruelty issue in the public limelight for the foreseeable future.

    Time for SeaWorld execs to use this as a wake up call and face the fact that this controversy is not going away. SeaWorld execs would best serve their animals and stockholders by plotting a course to a new business model that is not dependent on entertainment shows starring captive cetaceans.

  • Cameron

    She was seen partying with them all night. That’s conflict of interest. She should be fired.

  • Cameron

    As a San Diego resident I’m proud of seaworld and all they do for the animals. How about you leave.

  • Cameron

    The insult levied at the CCC is perfectly founded. By doing this, they are denying living organisms their right to procreate. Denying orcas a pod and company of their own kind and would cause them to have to split the pods up, separating families. . The other option is to not expand their tanks. As people such as you always moan about the size of the tanks, it’s a bit baffling you’d lobby to stop them from having a better habitat. It’s also baffling that you’d advocate splitting their pods up. Just goes to show you only have an interest in harming these animals.

  • Cameron

    All of that information is already available to the federal government who regulates them yearly. If there was “foul play” they’d be fined or shut down. Paranoid much?

  • Cameron

    There is photo evidence of her with Ingrid visser and naomi rose. As well as other PETA officers

  • Essie

    I’m proud of SeaWorld, it’s conservation efforts, it’s shows, and all the good it does for the San Diego economy. I agree…if you’re embarrased of the above, don’t let the door hit YOU on your way out.

  • Essie

    It wasn’t well reasoned and logical! It was a poorly stated, confusing, last minute curve ball thrown in at the end of an exhausting day! Commissioners Vargas even had to ask, “What exactly is it we’re voting on?” Dayna Bochco is a dirty politician and the rest (except for Cox) are spineless and afraid of her. SeaWorld is way smarter than her and they will come out of this on top.

  • Essie

    Have faith. SeaWorld has a team that has better character, knowledge, and intelligence than all the PETA psychopaths you can fit in a barrel. They will do the right thing by those animals.

  • Actually…no, there are two other SeaWorld parks, as well as Busch Gardens, Aquatica, and Sesame Place. SeaWorld San Diego has the worst track record of all the parks, and is the main reason that the company’s attendance was down as a whole. Orlando would be the company’s biggest money maker, with more attendance than any of the other 8 parks in the chain.

  • The CCC has made an emotional decision based on testimony from emotional people about a situation they only try to understand from a movie that was pieced together with YouTube clips, and former employees with an ax to grind, and money to make. When the head of an animal activist group tells the board “we’ve given you copies of Blackfish as proof” then you know that there is no legitimate argument to be had.

  • JimLight

    Unless she takes compensation from them in some way it’s no conflict. If she discussed the issue with them prior to the meeting that should be reported as an ex-parte communication.

  • JimLight

    This is more emotional rant and unsupportable slandering than a well reasoned argument.

  • JimLight

    You ARE kidding, right? If you think SeaWorld does not control orca mating today you are clueless. SeaWorld has used contraceptives on females. They move orcas from their families to mate. And artificial insemination is forced breeding. How is that any better than the CCC decision?

    Not sure where you are getting the “splitting pods up” attack, that is what SeaWord does not me.

    While BlueWorld may have been marginally better for the orcas it is still not big enough to be humane. With 15 orcas it would be about 0.15 acres of tank per orca. The rule of thumb for horses is one full acre for each horse. Obviously the tanks don’t even approach this ratio.

    So the CCCs decision is a great compromise. Give the current orcas somewhat more space, but do not perpetuate the cruelty on new orcas.

  • JimLight

    Animal performance shows are an outdated business model. And the conditions of orca captivity are cruel. The tide of public opinion has turned against orca captivity and it is building. Time for SeaWorld to adopt a new business model. It’s still stuck in the 70s.

  • JimLight

    But Moggy’s right, while many of us understand the cruelty of orca captivity there are those who haven’t really dug into the issue. A well covered court battle will expose the cruelty to more and more people.

  • Essie

    I disagree Jim Light. What I described is exactly what happened. You calling it an “emotional rant,” doesn’t make it any less fact, honey! If you are pro-BlueWorld, and believe that the new orca habitat is free from “cruel conditions,” then why is the breeding ban necessary?
    Let’s call a spade, a spade. Bochco is out to end the orca program at SeaWorld altogether. SeaWorld is not about to invest $100 million dollars into a habitat that will be rendered useless after the last of their animals have passed on.
    People aren’t stupid, Jim Light. They know, and YOU know, that the conditions placed upon SeaWorld are completely non-viable.

  • Essie

    I think Jim Light hasn’t been out of his basement since the 70s. Go do some research.

  • Essie

    Honestly, I agree. For a long time, I thought SW should fight this, and fight hard, but if the CCC wants to abuse their power and turn what should be an objective hearing into an absolute circus, then perhaps SeaWorld should pull out of CA. Why not invest the $100 m. in the Orlando location? There are plenty of other states that would not be so hostile to them. Let a monumental economic crisis be on the CCC’s hands. Perhaps then we can vote them all out and start over.

  • JimLight

    I do not think Blue World is free from cruel conditions, quite the contrary. But since the current 11 orcas are already captive it does marginally improve their quality of life. The ban on breeding and import prevents new orcas from suffering the cruelty of captivity.

    It is viable. If we believe SeaWorld orca longevity predictions they will have 40 years to recoupe their investment. I prefer retirement to sea pens, much cheaper and more humane, but that is not what SeaWorld proposed.

  • The Doctor

    Put it into the overseas expansion

  • The Doctor

    The CCC was there to issue a building permit – or not. That was the total extent of their purview.