SeaWorld, San Diego
Three orcas have died in SeaWorld's Texas park in the past six months REUTERS/Mike Blake

SeaWorld is suing the California Coastal Commission over its ban on breeding captive killer whales at its San Diego property. The state regulator had earlier approved a $100m (£67m) expansion plan for Blue World, the section of the amusement park which houses the orcas but later barred the breeding of the killer whales along with their sale, trade or transfer.

After filing a lawsuit in the San Diego Superior Court on 29 December, SeaWorld questioned the commission's jurisdiction in a statement, saying the whales are not part of the coastal or marine environment. "All of SeaWorld's activities with respect to the care, breeding and transportation of orcas occur onshore in the orca pools and not in the marine environment and are specifically governed by federal law," it said.

"By imposing broad new jurisdiction over all future SeaWorld marine animal projects, as well as aquarium projects elsewhere in the state, the commission has overstepped both federal and California law," Joel Manby, SeaWorld president and chief executive officer, had said in a statement in October.

In November, the company said it would phase out the orca shows at its San Diego park after visitors pointed out that they prefer seeing orcas behave naturally and not doing tricks. The show is to be replaced by one that focuses on conservation.

However, the attractions will continue at the company's Orlando and San Antonio parks which are not affected by the ban.

People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has been protesting the confinement of sea creatures at SeaWorld's parks and hailed the California commission's ban on orca breeding. In a statement it said: "It's clear that the company's primary intention in pursuing the Blue World Project was to breed more orcas to confine to tanks."

Last week the SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas made headlines when an orca died from an infection. It was the third death at the facility in the past six months.