A California commission was overreaching when it banned the breeding of captive killer whales at a $100 million planned exhibit at San Diego's SeaWorld, the park claimed in a lawsuit.
The suit filed Tuesday in San Diego County Superior Court asserts that the park's treatment of its whales is subject to federal law and not the decisions of the California Coastal Commission, which must approve major new building developments in coastal cities.
The commission endorsed the orca tank expansion known as "Blue World," but in a surprising and serious blow to the park included a ban on breeding at the planned facility and prohibitions on the sale, trade or transfer of the whales.
"This last-minute 'no breeding or transfer' condition is unprecedented," SeaWorld said in the lawsuit, which claims the commission's action is illegal because it has no jurisdiction over the orcas.
"The orcas are not, in any way, part of the coastal or marine environment," the lawsuit says. "All of SeaWorld's activities with respect to the care, breeding and transportation of orcas occur onshore in the orca pools and not in the marine environment and are specifically governed by federal law."
Noaki Schwartz, spokeswoman for the Coastal Commission, said the agency could not comment on the particulars of the lawsuit, but the commission said in a statement that it "stands by its decision in October to protect killer whales."
People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the main group opposing the project, said in a statement Tuesday that the commission was within its rights and made the correct decision.
"It's clear that the company's primary intention in pursuing the Blue World Project was to breed more orcas to confine to tanks," PETA said in a statement.
SeaWorld said in October that it would challenge the decision and that it had hired attorneys to examine it but did not give specifics before filing the lawsuit Tuesday.
Last month, the Orlando, Florida-based company said it would end theatrical orca shows at the San Diego park after visitors at the tourist attraction made it clear they prefer seeing killer whales act naturally rather than doing tricks.
The shows will continue at the company's Orlando and San Antonio parks, which are not affected by the breeding ban.