Press Releases

DelBene, Schiff, Huffman, Feinstein Introduce Legislation to End Future Capture and Breeding of Whales for Public Display

Today, Representatives Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Adam Schiff (CA-28), and Jared Huffman (CA-02) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA) introduced the Strengthening Welfare in Marine Settings (SWIMS) 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.

“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 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.”

“Whales are among the most intelligent, fascinating, and beautiful creatures in the world,” said 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 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 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.”

“I’m proud to partner with Congressman Schiff on a bill to end the capture, breeding, importation and exportation of orca, beluga, pilot and false killer whales,” said Feinstein. “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.”

Specifically, the SWIMS Act would:

  • Amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act 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.

The SWIMS Act is cosponsored by Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), and Alan Lowenthal (CA-47). 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.