Huffman, Schiff, Feinstein, and DelBene Introduce Legislation to End Future Capture and Breeding of Whales for Public Display
Washington, D.C – Today, Representatives Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Chair of the Natural Resources Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the Strengthening Welfare in Marine Settings Act, legislation that would end the future capture and breeding of whales for public display.
Studies have shown that certain cetaceans - specifically, orcas, beluga whales, pilot whales, and false killer whales – are cognitively, emotionally, and socially complex animals who cannot thrive in captivity. Whales who are held for display often exhibit signs of suffering and distress – and die significantly younger than whales who live in the wild. Currently, there are roughly 50 whales being held in captivity in the United States.
“The science and tragic real-life experiences have shown us time and again that marine mammals suffer from being in captivity - often being exploited and abused. But our laws and practices don’t reflect that,” said Rep. Huffman. “We need to finally make the humane changes that have been needed for decades. With our bill, these extraordinary mammals can thrive and be appreciated where they belong – in the wild.”
“Whales are among the most intelligent, fascinating, and beautiful creatures in the world,” said Rep. Schiff. “And they deserve to live freely in their natural habitats – not in captivity where their lives are defined by the four walls of a concrete tank. The SWIMS Act would protect these magnificent creatures, and I want to thank Senator Feinstein and Representatives Huffman and DelBene for their partnership on this important legislation.”
“The conditions these whales live in contribute to far shorter lifespans – captive orcas typically live just 12 years compared to 40 years in the wild – and there is significant evidence that captivity is excruciating for these mammals. SeaWorld announced in 2016 that its current orcas in captivity will be its last; the federal government should expand on this example and prohibit all new captive whales for purposes of entertainment,” said Senator Feinstein.
“Orcas are icons of the Pacific Northwest and they should stay free in the wild. The science is clear – when these marine mammals and other large whales are kept in captivity, they are often exploited, treated poorly, or abused,” said Rep. DelBene. “The legislation we are introducing today will strengthen our animal welfare laws by ending future capture and breeding of these creatures for public display. These majestic marine mammals should be observed and cherished in their natural habitat where they belong, not in captivity.”
Specifically, the SWIMS Act would:
- Amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to prohibit the taking, importation, or exportation of these whales for the purpose of public display.
- Amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit any breeding of these whales for future public display.
- Allow exemptions for animals being transported to a sanctuary setting or released to the wild.
Rep. Huffman has been a leader in calling for an end to marine mammal captivity. His efforts have included:
- In November 2021, he led a bicameral letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) calling on the agency to take immediate steps to improve standards of care for marine mammals in captivity.
- In 2015, Huffman, Schiff, and Sens. Feinstein and Boxer asked the Office of Budget and Management to publicly release a proposed rule to reflect input from the scientific community, non-profits, and the public to improve protections for captive marine mammals.
- Prior to that, 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.
- Huffman and Schiff have also introduced earlier iterations of this legislation, namely the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act.
The SWIMS Act is cosponsored by Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.). It is endorsed by the Nonhuman Rights Project, Animal Welfare Institute, Michelson Center for Public Policy, Animal Defenders International, Cetacean Society International, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, CompassionWorks International, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Earth Island Institute, Endangered Species Coalition, Oceanic Preservation Society, FOUR PAWS USA, Performing Animal Welfare Society, Whale Sanctuary Project, and Born Free USA.
Click here to read the full text of this legislation.
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