A new law in California will change everything about keeping orcas in captivity.
You can't breed orca whales in California anymore.
On Sept. 13, 2016, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that'll make it illegal to breed orca whales in California. It'll also majorly rewrite what captivity itself means for the whales.
The law comes into effect next June, and it'll change things in a big way. Places like SeaWorld, for instance, won't be able to breed orcas at all anymore nor use them for entertainment or performances.
Instead, the only way you can keep an orca in captivity is if you're a bona fide educational or science institution or if you're trying to save its life after a rescue. Under the law, orca whales currently in captivity can stay there, but the facilities holding them will need to conform to the new standards.
This is a big deal, partly because it's a result of major public outcry about keeping orcas in captivity.
Orca whales are large, smart, social animals, and it's often really, really difficult to keep such animals in captivity. Some people have said it's even cruel.
And although some people have pointed to scientific progress that's only been made possible through such close contact with them, the public outcry has been, on the whole, pretty deafening.
Though it's not the only institution to hold orcas in captivity, SeaWorld has been a major target for the outcry, starting with the 2013 documentary "Blackfish."
The documentary focused on the life of Tilikum, an adult male orca whale at SeaWorld who killed one of their trainers. Since the premiere of the documentary, SeaWorld has come under major pressure to change its orca whale shows and keeping practices.
In March of this year, SeaWorld (which has 24 orcas in captivity in California, Texas, and Florida) promised to stop its breeding program and end its use of orcas for entertainment purposes. It will still keep them on their property, but there are plans to transition the whales to a more natural, education-oriented focus.
"SeaWorld has been listening and we're changing," said the company in a statement, as reported by The Independent. "Society is changing and we're changing with it. SeaWorld is finding new ways to continue to deliver on our purpose to inspire all our guests to take action to protect wild animals and wild places."
With this new law, SeaWorld will be able to keep the whales they currently have, but they can't really breed or bring in new ones.
This law should hopefully help protect orca whales in captivity while still allowing for good-faith rescue attempts and education.
It's huge progress for animal activists everywhere and for orcas, mostly made possible by people — regular people — like you and me. And that's pretty cool.