The California Coastal Commission on Thursday approved a plan by SeaWorld San Diego to expand its killer whale tanks, but banned any future breeding of the whales.
The decision came as hundreds of animal welfare activists packed a meeting in Long Beach where the proposal was being considered.
The Commission decided to expand the theme park's $100 million Blue World Project, which would replace and expand two existing orca facilities with larger tanks, one containing 5.2 million gallons of water and another with 450,000 gallons.
About 420 people — both for and against the project — packed the meeting at the Long Beach Convention Center.
"SeaWorld is pure evil," said actress and project opponent Pamela Anderson outside the meeting. "It is absolutely ridiculous that it still exists and I'm hoping that every aquatic center closes down."
But SeaWorld spokesperson David Koontz said they are "disappointed" by the Coastal Commission's conditions placed on the project. It will cause them to carefully review and consider their options.
"Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal’s life and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane,' Koontz said in a statement.
Activists were calling on the commission to vote down the project, saying the expansion of marine-mammal exhibits would only allow for even more breeding of orcas in captivity.
"SeaWorld's tanks, regardless of size, deny these highly intelligent animals the social bonds, open space, freedom, and stimulation that they would have in their natural ocean homes," said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman in a news release.
SeaWorld staff said the proposed changes include a new habitat for killer whales with underwater, fast-water currents.
"It's really an exciting thing for the whales and for the people that visit SeaWorld as well," said John Riley, president of SeaWorld San Diego.
According to PETA, thousands of people have written to the California Coastal Commission in opposition to SeaWorld's plan.
The California Coastal Commission issued a report recommending the plan be approved with conditions.
Gordon Tokumatsu and Jason Kandel contributed to this report.