Dolphins would join Orcas in an updated captivity ban bill, effectively shutting down large parts of animal parks such as SeaWorld, but also leaving open the question of helping them medically in such places.
The ‘Dolphin Protection Act’
Under Senate Bill 1405, authored by Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), dolphins would not be allowed to be held in captivity anymore, including for ‘display, performance, or entertainment purposes‘. Dolphins and orcas, known as ‘cetaceans’, would be grandfathered in before a certain date being in captivity, but could only be used for educational purposes. Further provisions restrict transport and breeding of cetaceans in the state. No dates have been set yet for proposed end dates.
Senator Galgiani wrote the bill, also known as the ‘Dolphin Protection Act’, in response to the ill-effects dolphins and other cetaceans have had while in captivity, in addition to them needing more space than parks or aquariums can offer. Tanks have been noted by cetacean experts to be the size of “one-ten thousandths of one percent” of their normal swimming range.
“We should not rely on cruel and inhumane treatment of any creature simply for our entertainment,” said Senator Galgiani late last month. “Dolphins are incredibly intelligent beings that suffer a range of health problems and stress as a result of being held in captivity.”
Galgiani has also written previous bills on expanding animal welfare, such as SB 1249 in 2018, a law that came into effect this year that banned animal testing in cosmetics in the state.
While the ban would keep them out for entertainment reasons almost immediately, a decision that may harm places such as SeaWorld in San Diego, the long term-effects of keeping them out of captivity could be detrimental.
Environmental and animal welfare groups have generally been in favor of the bill, while groups such as those representing parks where dolphins are currently kept are expected to oppose SB 1405 should it move further on in the Senate.
A question over dolphin rescue
“A lot of aquariums, think Monterrey or other large ones, do rehabilitation programs for sea life,” explained Marine Biologist Nancy Wayne-Foster. “They need to be held in captivity, so to speak, for long-term rehabilitation. I’ve helped with dolphins recovery before out in Florida. One dolphin we helped had been chopped up pretty bad by a boat’s propeller and we had to keep it for a few years because of further complications. That’s captivity under the current definition, and if it was under this bill, I don’t know if we could have kept him and saved him.”
“So for [SB 1405] the question becomes what we do for them medically. If a dolphin comes into an aquarium where it needs to stay a long time, is that legal then? The bill does not say one way or another, and that is very worrying.”
“I’ve seen what keeping these guys in a small area can do to them, and they fight, their health worsens, and they generally hate it. But keeping them to save their life with the intention of bringing them back in the wild, that’s a different story.”
“This is an otherwise good idea. But you have got to give medical allowances, and you have got to give a solid time frame on this to prepare the public. It currently does neither.”
If passed, California would become the second state in the United States to ban the display of cetaceans, following South Carolina. California would also join Canada, France, Mexico, India, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Norway in captivity bans or near bans.
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