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SeaWorld Sues California Regulators Over Orca Breeding Ban

Representatives of the San Diego park sued on Tuesday, saying the California Coastal Commission didn't have the authority to limit the breeding of killer whales in captivity.

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SeaWorld filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to reverse a ban on its orca breeding program, the Associated Press reported.

The California Coastal Commission, which regulates land use along the coast, in October banned the San Diego theme park from breeding captive orcas even as it also approved a $100 million expansion. The breeding ban was praised by animal rights activists, including PETA, who called it a victory for "long-suffering orcas."

At the time, SeaWorld officials said they cared for the orcas as family, and it would be wrong to deny their 11 whales reproduction. The park has faced increased scrutiny since the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which accused SeaWorld of mistreating its animals.

In the new lawsuit, SeaWorld claimed the commission had overstepped its authority with the ban.

"The orcas are not, in any way, part of the coastal or marine environment," their suit said. "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."

Since 1976, development in California's coastal zones has required a permit from the commission. Its mission includes preserving public access as well as the environment of the state's coast.

In October, the commission approved the park's plan to build a 5.2-million-gallon tank and 450,000-gallon pool for the Shamu killer whale facility, demolishing part of an old facility. The expansion was granted under the condition that the new facility not house wild orcas or "utilize any genetic material from" orcas that were taken from the wild.

A spokeswoman for the commission told the AP that it stands by its October decision.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, PETA praised the commission's decision and said the regulatory agency acted within its authority. The group also blasted SeaWorld, saying the objective of the park's expansion was to "breed more orcas to confine to tanks."

"SeaWorld's only chance of competing in the 21st century is to do what PETA has urged the company to do for years: Ditch the orca shows and tanks in favor of coastal sanctuaries for the animals and cutting-edge educational experiences without live animals for attendees," PETA added in the statement.

Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Claudia Koerner at claudia.koerner@buzzfeed.com.

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