“For almost two decades, USDA has failed to update the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations for captive marine mammals.”
Mike Blake / Reuters
Tuesday afternoon, Congressmen Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) and 39 members of Congress, released a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging them to regulate orca and marine mammal captivity.
The bipartisan letter, addressed to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, calls for updates to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which has not been updated since 1995.
Congressmen Jared Huffman told BuzzFeed in a phone interview that he began having concerns after viewing the documentary Blackfish. Huffman and his staff began researching the issue and was surprised that the current standards have been "sitting in limbo" for over a decade.
"Like a lot of people, I did a lot of reflection after I saw the documentary Blackfish. I began to look into whether our federal authorities were taking the steps I think would be appropriate at this time to make sure we have the most responsible policy in place for marine mammal captivity, and I was very disappointed to find that they're not."
Huffman also said that he hopes the USDA responds in a constructive and accountable way, because the government has been "doing nothing" for the safety of marine mammals and has been "ducking the issue for over a decade."
"It is rather hard to justify the inaction, spanning two different administrations Republican and Democrat, on something the public obviously cares a lot about. But I think that anybody who cares about good science and regulations based on the latest information, should support this, and I would hope that this is how SeaWorld would view it."
A statement from SeaWorld was not available at press time.
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations governing whale and dolphin confinement are archaic, woefully inadequate, and often unenforced. Social, intelligent, and complex orcas and dolphins are separated from their families, confined to tiny barren concrete tanks, deprived of everything that is natural and important to them, and forced to perform silly tricks at amusement parks such as SeaWorld. It's time for the U.S. Department of Agriculture—the only agency tasked with enforcing the AWA—to step up and ensure the humane treatment of animals by enforcing strict regulations to protect those who are used for "entertainment" from systemic abuse.