The highest court in the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, recently issued a definitive ruling against Japan’s whale hunting operations around Antarctica, underscoring the value of a bill moving its way through the California Legislature.
Japanese whalers kill 10,000 whales annually within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in the name of science, but have failed to issue any significant scientific research since the program began in 1988. The U.N. court’s ruling called for an immediate halt to that whaling program, and Japan has agreed to comply.
Just as Japan must limit its hunting of whales for food, California must put an end to enslaving orcas – better known as killer whales – for entertainment. A bill that is now before the Legislature – Assembly Bill 2140, introduced by Assembly member Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica – would do just that.
Whales have long held a special place in the minds of humans, hailed as some of the most intelligent species on Earth. The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” offered nuance and texture about the lives and experiences of orcas that had previously been unknown to most of its viewers.
Scientists have learned from years of study that orcas live with their pods – or families – for their entire lives in the wild. Each pod has what amounts to a distinct language, likely making it impossible for its members to communicate fluently with orcas from different pods.
As “Blackfish” illuminated, when juvenile whales were captured for entertainment purposes in amusement parks like San Diego’s SeaWorld, their captors were surrounded by the remaining members of the pod, who called out to them and attempted to prevent the boat from leaving. The subsequent training and treatment of the orcas for entertainment are captured in the film and are almost too inhumane to view and left the boldest of these creatures visibly depressed.
Bloom’s bill, entitled “The Orca Welfare and Health Act,” would make it illegal to hold orcas captive for entertainment purposes in California. It would end an era of not-so-hidden abuse of wildlife.
The bill is an acknowledgment of our essential connection to wildlife as human beings. It is a sign that, as humans, we understand that we have an obligation not just to whales but to wildlife throughout the world that is at the mercy of our policy decisions – from how we make and use energy to where and how we store our trash.
Whales are not the only animals worthy of our respect and protection. The Los Angeles Shriners recently announced that they would no longer use elephants, or any animals, as part of their annual circus fundraiser. Reports on the matter revealed that the move may have stemmed from a 2013 city of Los Angeles ban on the use bullhooks, which trainers use to manage elephants.
These controversies about the use of majestic wild animals to entertain are reminders that humans and wildlife have an unbreakable bond. We share the same air, water and land. We are struck by the same natural disasters, and many species seem to share similar desires for connection with loved ones that ultimately brings meaning to our lives.
Ending orca entertainment in California may not put an end to the use of these intelligent and emotive creatures for entertainment in other parts of the nation and the world. But it would speak well of our state’s character, and of our commitment to protecting natural areas and wildlife, both on and off our shores.
And it would serve as one more example of a sensible policy that will help to preserve a world worth living in for our children and grandchildren.
Edward Moreno is a policy advocate for Sierra Club California, the legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the Sierra Club in Sacramento.