SeaWorld has suffered another hit to its killer whale show after the California Coastal Commission banned it from breeding orcas in captivity as a condition of its approval of the struggling San Diego theme park's $100 million expansion.
The new conditions, which were attached to an approval of the park's Blue World expansion, set to open in 2018, prohibits all whale breeding, including the use of artificial insemination.
It also bans the sale, trade, or transfer of captive orcas. The amendment does, however, provide a potential exemption for certain whales caught in the wild, according to the Associated Press. SeaWorld claims it has not caught orcas from the wild in more than three decades.
The decision pushes the struggling marine park further to the brink of closing, as it would mean that the 11 remaining orcas at Sea World would be the last to live in the park.
The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) welcomed the amendment, saying in a statement that the move "ensures that no more orcas will be condemned to a non-life of loneliness, deprivation and misery."
SeaWorld said it would consider whether to proceed with the expansions or possible legal challenges to the commission's conditions.
"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 park said in a statement.
SeaWorld has been battered by negative press in recent years as former orca trainers spoke out against the company's practices first in the documentary Blackfish and in a book called Beneath the Surface, by former trainer John Hargrove. Both the movie and the book claim that the whales suffer serious health problems in captivity, are more aggressive because of their captivity, and are poorly treated by SeaWorld.
It also battled two highly-publicized lawsuits over its treatment of animals, one brought by PETA and another by shareholders, and was the focus of proposed legislation in California that sought to ban the captivity of orcas.
The park's stock price fell 35 percent and attendance dropped 4.5 percent last year, which the company said on its website was partially caused by negative media attention stemming from the proposed California legislation.
In March, the theme park launched a massive new public relations campaign this week to try and rebuild its battered image and finances in the wake of a flood of negative media about it.