The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 Tuesday to oppose recently introduced legislation that would ban SeaWorld San Diego from featuring orcas in its shows, as well as any future state or federal efforts proposing similar restrictions involving killer whales.
SeaWorld San Diego is the region's second-largest attraction and draws millions of visitors each year, according to county officials. It also employs thousands and is a major contributor to San Diego's economy.
Last month, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, introduced the proposed ban on killer whale performances in response to abuse allegations made in the documentary "Blackfish," which explored the death of a SeaWorld Orlando trainer drowned by an orca four years ago.
"While I understand the emotions behind this bill, emotions are a poor way to create policy -- especially when dealing with a local employer that will provide jobs directly for 4,500 of our friends and neighbors while drawing over 4 1/2 million visitors through its gates," Supervisor Ron Roberts said.
SeaWorld would be allowed to keep an orca exhibit, albeit with more of an aquarium-like setting, under the "Orca Welfare and Safety Act." But it would be prohibited from captively breeding, importing and exporting the animals, which can live up to 80 years and grow to 32 feet in length.
Supervisor Ron Roberts said the proposal "threatened to greatly diminish SeaWorld's ability to contribute to our community."
Last week, an Assembly committee referred the bill for further study, which could take about a year.
Supervisor Dave Roberts, who cast the dissenting vote, said he would rather wait until all the questions were answered.
"I think we're all scratching our heads as to why we're diving into a controversial issue when the issue was decided in Sacramento for us," he said.
The bill has gained support from animal rights activists such as Martha Sullivan, who said the "highly intelligent, socially sophisticated orcas" did not thrive in captivity and should not be forced to perform until they eventually die.
"We're talking about morality and ethics here," she said.
SeaWorld executives have adamantly denied animal abuse allegations, along with accusations that they do not do enough to protect the trainers.
John Reilly, president of SeaWorld San Diego, said the park in recent weeks had been surrounded by emotion and misinformation -- much of which was the result of the "propaganda film."
"Our passionate and dedicated team of zoological professionals are the real animal advocates," Reilly said. "They work tirelessly to provide the best habitat possible for our animals, the best physical and behavioral health programs and an educational and memorable experience for all of our guests."