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SeaWorld Criticizes Ban on Orca Breeding

FILE - People watch through the glass as a killer whale passes by while swimming in a display tank at SeaWorld in San Diego, Nov. 30, 2006.

SeaWorld is criticizing a ruling by California authorities that bans the breeding of its captive orca whale population, saying that denying the animals their ability to breed is cruel.

The San Diego theme park said Friday that it was carefully reviewing and considering its options after the California Coastal Commission voted to allow the park to expand its killer whale habitat on the condition that it stop its captive breeding programs.

"Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal's life and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane," the theme park said in a statement.

The park's president, John Reilly, said the ban on breeding would "sentence these animals to a slow extinction in our care."

California authorities also prohibited the sale, trade or transfer of captive orcas at the park.

SeaWorld has been struggling with lower park attendance and public criticism since the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which suggested that SeaWorld was not treating the orcas well.

SeaWorld denies that it treats the orcas poorly and argues that its exhibits help people to understand the plight of the killer whales.

The theme park wants to build new orca pools that it says will give the mammals more room to swim and improve the ability of the public and researchers to view the orcas.

The California Coastal Commission said it received more than 100,000 emails and tens of thousands of letters and postcards about the issue in the run-up to a public hearing Thursday in Long Beach that was attended by more than 500 people.