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House votes to approve Sea World amendment but prospects dim

By Jennifer Chaussee

(Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives has approved an amendment that would put new restrictions on the way captive orca whales and other animals are treated at theme parks such as Sea World, but the legislation's prospects for becoming law appeared dim.

The amendment, which was attached to a larger appropriations bill currently before Congress, would require the Department of Agriculture to create new rules reducing the amount of noise whales are exposed to, limit programs where the public is allowed to swim with dolphins and regulate the temperature of the water in the tanks where the animals are held.

But the amendment is not expected to gain final approval in Congress because it is attached to a larger appropriations bill to allocate funds to the USDA for other unrelated programs, like food stamps and school nutrition programs, which are more contentious.  

The White House has said that President Barack Obama would veto the larger bill if it passed Congress.

Representatives from Sea World dismissed the proposal, saying that existing regulations are sufficient.

"We would hope that any effort to revise these regulations is based on science and not the allegations of animal rights extremists," a spokesman for the company said.

Political pressure to regulate the business of holding whales and other marine mammals in captivity for entertainment has increased since the death of a Sea World whale trainer in 2010 and the release of the documentary Blackfish in 2013.

The legislation was drafted by two Democratic representatives from California, Jared Huffman and Adam Schiff, after state legislators in April failed to pass legislation that would have banned the captivity of orca whales at Sea World.

In a move to pressure the USDA in complying, Huffman and Schiff drafted legislation requiring the USDA to conduct scientific research about marine mammal captivity for the purpose of writing new rules. The USDA has not responded to the proposed legislation or the initial letter.

(The story is refiled to add dropped word "amendment" in headline)

(Reporting by Jennifer Chaussee; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)

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