SAN DIEGO • California regulators have recommended approval of a plan by SeaWorld San Diego to build larger tanks for its killer whales despite strong opposition from tens of thousands of people who want to see the animals released instead.
Experts with the California Coastal Commission issued a report in favour of allowing SeaWorld to go ahead with its so-called Blue World Project on several conditions, officials said.
Those include one provision limiting SeaWorld on how it could expand its population of 11 killer whales.
SeaWorld has drawn up plans for two killer whale pools, one containing 19.7 million litres of water and another with 1.7 million litres.
It would represent an increase in volume of nearly 4.4 million litres, officials said.
The commission will vote on the project on Oct 8, said agency spokesman Noaki Schwartz.
The proposal has generated so much interest that the meeting will be held at the massive Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center to accommodate members of the public wanting to attend. "People have sent us tens of thousands of letters and more than 120,000 e-mails from around the world," Ms Schwartz said.
Most e-mails have been in opposition to the plan, she said.
SeaWorld has faced criticism and declining business since the 2013 documentary Blackfish presented a dim view of how the company treats killer whales.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) has led the charge against the project. Even though expansion would give the animals more room, it would fall far short of what is needed for the predators, which in the wild can dive hundreds of metres, said Mr Jared Goodman, an attorney for Peta.
But Dr Paul Ponganis, a research physiologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said in a SeaWorld statement: "The proposed Blue World project will provide not only an expanded habitat for whales, but also new opportunities for researchers to conduct studies that will benefit killer whales and other cetaceans in the wild."