Huffman and Schiff Respond to Long-Awaited Captive Marine Mammal Rule

February 04, 2016

Washington, DC – Congressmen Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) responded today to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement that after 20 years they have publicly released their plans to update regulations for captive marine mammals. The Animal Welfare Act provides USDA with the authority over the welfare of a variety of captive marine mammals including orcas, dolphins, polar bears, sea otters, and sea lions.

“After nearly two decades, I am glad to see USDA is finally taking a critical step forward to update our captive marine mammal regulations,” Huffman said. “I am, however, deeply concerned that the agency continues to duck the tough decisions and that they failed to address tank size, a key aspect of captive animal welfare. The agency’s attempt misses the mark on a number of fronts, and it is clear from the text of the proposed rule that this draft was significantly influenced, if not written by, the exhibitor industry. I look forward to a robust public evaluation of this proposal, and will work with stakeholders to ensure the final rule reflects the latest science. In the coming months, I will also be following up with USDA to discuss my concerns with their proposal as I continue to review the specifics of the rule.

“I'm pleased that the USDA is finally taking steps to update their long-outdated regulations for captive marine mammals,” said Schiff. “However, I am deeply disappointed that the proposed rule does not change one of the most apparent issues with captivity of marine mammals—the size requirements for their primary enclosures. Members of Congress, the scientific community, and the public have repeatedly stressed the importance of increasing space requirements, but this proposed rule fails to take those views and scientific recommendations into consideration. I urge the public—especially members of the scientific community—to weigh in during the public comment period so that we can ensure that the final proposed rule reflects the best available science and therefore improves the welfare of captive marine mammals.”

Huffman and Schiff have been very active in improving humane conditions for captive marine mammals. They led a letter in 2014 with other members of Congress urging USDA to update the captive marine mammal regulations. The text of the letter can be found here.

In 2015, Huffman, Schiff and Sens. Feinstein and Boxer also asked the Office of Budget and Management to publicly release the proposed rule.

And then, last Congress, Huffman and Schiff passed an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill for USDA to conduct and update the science necessary for Animal Welfare Act regulations on captivity of orcas and cetaceans. The Schiff-Huffman amendment passed with unanimous bipartisan support.

Schiff and Huffman also introduced the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act.  This landmark legislation would phase out the captivity of orcas so that their display ends with this generation. Specifically, it would prohibit the breeding, the taking (wild capture), and the import or export of orcas for the purposes of public display.