California commission to vote on SeaWorld's orca tank expansion

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Activists Take on SeaWorld Over Orca Treatment

The California Coastal Commission was set on Thursday to vote on a proposal by SeaWorld San Diego to build larger tanks for its killer whales in a plan that has drawn opposition from tens of thousands of people who want to see the orcas released instead.

The proposal has generated record public interest, so much so that the agency will host the vote meeting in the massive Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, just south of Los Angeles, to accommodate all those wanting to attend.

At least several hundred opponents and supporters of the proposal are expected to show up.

SeaWorld history:

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SeaWorld history
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California commission to vote on SeaWorld's orca tank expansion
SAN DIEGO - FEBRUARY 20: Actress Uma Thurman hugs killer whale Shamu during a visit to SeaWorld February 20 ,2009 in San Diego, California. The star of films 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Kill Bill' was treated to a behind-the-scenes tour at the marine-life park where she also got to interact with bottlenose dolphins, beluga whales and a walrus. (Photo by Bob Couey/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
392915 02: Pop Singer Kaci Pets A Penguin August 2, 2001 At Seaworld In San Diego, Ca. (Photo By Getty Images)
393343 01: Talk Show Host Larry King Pretends To Interview Shamu, A Killer Whale, During A Family Visit To Seaworld August 6, 2001 In San Diego, Ca. (Photo By Getty Images)
393584 02: Rapper Ll Cool J Holds A Macaroni Penguin During A Behind-The-Scenes Tour At Seaworld August 22, 2001 In San Diego, Ca. (Photo By Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO - APRIL 10: Actress Debra Messing interacts with curious penguins at SeaWorld San Diego's Penguin Encounter April 10, 2009 in San Diego, California. The actress and her family were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the marine-life park. The penguin exhibit features a snow-filled habitat maintained at 25 degrees that features more than 250 penguins representing five Antarctic species. (Photo by Bob Couey/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO - MAY 2: Tony Award-winning actress Marissa Jaret Winokur and 10 month-old son Zev get an up-close look at a Humboldt penguin chick during tour of SeaWorld San Diego May 2, 2009 in San Diego, California. The chick, which is being hand raised, is just over 30-days-old. Winokur, her husband Judah Miller, a writer and producer on the animated comedy show 'King of the Hill,' and Zev enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour which included a Dolphin Interaction Program and other close up interactions with killer whales, dolphins, beluga whales, walruses and sharks. Winokur will host Oxygen�s new competition series 'Dance Your Ass Off,' premiering June 29. (Photo by Bob Couey/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 26: In this handout from SeaWorld San Diego, 'True Blood' actor Anna Paquin swims with a bottlenose dolphin during a Dolphin Interaction Program at SeaWorld San Diego's Penguin Encounter July 26, 2009 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Bob Couey-SeaWorld via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO - MAY 14: In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, singer Justin Bieber poses next to Allua, a female beluga whale at SeaWorld San Diego, on May 14, 2010 in San Diego, California. Bieber was in San Diego for a live performance today. (Photo by Bob Couey/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 27: In this handout image provided by SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld San Diego�s 14-year-old, 1,150-pound male polar bear, Charly, chills following a snowy adventure at the park's Wild Arctic attraction on August 27, 2010. Summer temperatures soared into the triple digits across the United States. (Photo by Bob Couey/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: In this handout image provided by SeaWorld San Diego, �Bachelorette� Ali Fedotowsky celebrates her 26th birthday with her fiancé Roberto Martinez at SeaWorld San Diego on September 16, 2010 in San Diego, California. The love birds spent a day interacting with SeaWorld's amazing animals, including bottlenose dolphins. During a special Dolphin Interaction Program arranged by Roberto, one of dolphins even brought Ali a birthday message in a bottle! (Photo by Bob Couey/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 04: In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, a new emperor is in town at SeaWorld on October 4, 2010 in San Diego, California. For the first time in eight years, an emperor penguin has hatched at the marine-life park's Penguin Encounter attraction. The 3-week-old, 2-pound chick hatched in mid-September and is being hand-raised by the SeaWorld's aviculturists in a behind-the-scenes nursery. This marks the 21st emperor penguin to hatch at the park since 1980. SeaWorld San Diego is world-renowned for its successful penguin breeding program and has hatched and raised more than 500 penguin chicks representing eight species in the last 30 years. The chick is expected to go on public display in about four months. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 21: Sea World staff photographer Mike Aguilera photographs the release boat carrying Miranda Richardson as she helps Sea World San Diego return rescued Sea Turtles to the ocean at Sea World on June 21, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 21: A general view of the atmosphere at the premiere of Sea World San Diego's 'Turtle: The Incredible Journey' on June 21, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 21: A general view of the atmosphere at the premiere of Sea World San Diego's 'Turtle: The Incredible Journey' on June 21, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 03: In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow meets Clyde the Sea Lion, the star of SeaWorld San Diego’s 'Sea Lion Tonite,' at the marine-life park's Sea Lion and Otter Stadium on August 3, 2011 in San Diego, California. Crow and her sons spent the day a SeaWorld meeting, feeding and learning about sea turtles, penguins and sea lions, other park animal ambassadors. Crow was performing in San Diego on her summer concert tour with Kid Rock. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 15: In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, Santa Claus poses with a Beluga Whale at SeaWorld San Diego on December 15, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 17: In this handout image provided by Seaworld, five Humboldt penguin chicks seem to pose perfectly for a picture at SeaWorld San Diego on May 17, 2012 in San Diego, California The chicks, which hatched at the marine-life park within the last two months, were raised by their parents until the age of 30 days when penguin keepers took over rearing and are teaching them to accept food from humans. Native to Peru and Chile, Humboldts are a threatened species. SeaWorld San Diego has a colony of more than 40 adults, which can be seen during a behind-the-scenes tour. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/Seaworld via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 06: In this handout image provided by SeaWorld, Clyde, an Asian water monitor went on an early Easter egg hunt today, with the help of SeaWorld trainer Caroline Smith at SeaWorld San Diego on April 6, 2012 in San Diego, California. He gobbled up several eggs on the grassy area of Animal Connections, where he often can be seen as part of impromptu encounters. Asian water monitors, native to marshes and riverbanks throughout southern Asia, are good climbers and sometimes feed on eggs from bird's nests. They also eat birds, fish and other small animals. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 15: In this handout image provided by SeaWorld San Diego, actress Willow Shields dances with her new friend, Avalon, a bottlenose dolphin, at SeaWorld San Diego's Dolphin Point on July 15, 2012 in San Diego, California. 'The Hunger Games' star was in San Diego participating in the 43rd annual Comic-Con when she made a visit to the marine-life park. Along with dolphins, Stenberg also met penguins, seals and sea lions. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 25: In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld, Szenja, one of the polar bears from SeaWorld San Diego’s Wild Arctic exhibit, gets into the spirit of Halloween on October 25, 2012 in San Diego, California. Polar bears are the largest land carnivore and have 42 teeth, which they use for catching food. Polar bears swallow most food in large chunks rather than chewing. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/ SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 05: In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld, Cascade, a 29-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, gave birth to a calf at SeaWorld San Diego on November 5, 2012 in San Diego, California . The 30-pound calf is the 78th dolphin born at the marine-life park. SeaWorld trainers and animal care specialists are monitoring both mom and calf round-the-clock documenting respirations and nursing frequency. Cascade and her calf are doing very well as they swim together and bond. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego Via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - FEBRUARY 14: In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, mom and baby killer whale swim together at SeaWorld San Diego's Shamu Stadium February 14, 2013 in San Diego, California. Kasatka, a killer whale who is approximately 37 years old, gave birth to the calf this morning at 6:33 a.m. under the watchful eyes of SeaWorld's zoological team. The calf is estimated to weigh between 300 and 350 pounds and measure 6 to 7 feet. The gender of the calf is not yet known. As with any killer whale birth, the mother and calf will be observed round the clock for the first few days. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 19: In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, actor Ken Jeong, who stars in 'The Hangover Part III' and the new movie 'Turbo,' enjoyed a day at SeaWorld San Diego with his family July 19, 2013 in San Diego, California. Jeong got up close and personal with Clyde the Sea Lion. He also toured the park's Animal Rescue facility, and visited amazing animals at Wild Arctic and Pets Rule! (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 27: In this handout image provided by SeaWorld San Diego, California sea lion pups recover at SeaWorld San Diego's Animal Rescue Center January 27, 2015 in San Diego, California. The marine park, along with other rehabilitation facilities along the California coastline, is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of ailing sea lions stranded on beaches this year. The young animals, six to eight months old, are found extremely lethargic, malnourished and dehydrated. It's not known with certainty why the region is seeing a larger number of strandings this early in 2015, however, there could be insufficient food sources for the sea lions. SeaWorld San Diego has rescued 62 marine mammals since Jan. 1, and 60 of those are California sea lions. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
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Experts with the California Coastal Commission issued a report last month in favor of allowing SeaWorld to go ahead with its so-called Blue World Project on several conditions.

Those include one provision limiting SeaWorld on how it could expand its population of 11 killer whales at the San Diego theme park and requiring it to protect the sea mammals from noise during construction.

SeaWorld has drawn up plans for two orca pools, one containing 5.2 million gallons (19.7 million liters) of water and another with 450,000 gallons (1.7 million liters). It would represent an increase in volume of nearly 3.8 million gallons (14.4 million liters), officials said.

As of last month the commission had received more than 120,000 emails from people about the project, most coming from people opposing it, said commission spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz.

A typical email of opposition the commission received said the orcas should be freed from captivity and placed in seaside sanctuaries.

Tens of thousands of letters and post cards were also sent to the commission, and most of those were in support of the plan, she said.

The volume of communication the California Coastal Commission has received on the proposal represents a record for the agency, Schwartz said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Sandra Maler)

See photos of orcas:

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Orcas
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California commission to vote on SeaWorld's orca tank expansion
An orca swims at the Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes, southeastern France, on December 12, 2013. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
MARCH 20, 2014. SAN DIEGO, CA. During a night time performance at Shamu Stadium, a trained orca killer whale leaps above the pool at Sea World, San Diego, CA on March 20, 2014. In the aftermath of the documentary 'Blackfish', critics are suggesting an end to keeping whales captive for entertainment. (Photo by Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Orcas perform on August 11, 2013 at the Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes, southeastern France. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Big Orca Sunset Spyhop
An orca swims with its calf at the Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes, southeastern France, on December 12, 2013. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Female orca Wikie swims with her calf born by artificial insemination on April 19, 2011 at Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes, southeastern France. Born on March 16, the two metre long baby weighing 150 kilos hasn't yet been called. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Orca killer whale (Orcinus orca), headshot
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