(CNN) - Over three dozen members of Congress want the government to ensure the humane treatment of orca whales and other marine animals in captivity, following an outcry sparked by the documentary "Blackfish."
The letter, released Thursday and signed by 37 Democrats and one Republican to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, cites outdated regulations protecting those sea mammals and asserts that the current rules don’t reflect “updated science."
The documentary recounts the 2010 death of veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by a killer whale, challenging the concept of keeping these whales for entertainment. Nearly 21 million people watched "Blackfish" when it aired on CNN in October and, since then, a firestorm of debate over the controversy has erupted.
"This situation has garnered great attention by the general public, especially with the release of the documentary film ‘Blackfish’ that calls into question the feasibility of keeping orcas humanely in captivity due to the enormous physical and psychological impact on orcas kept in confinement and regularly required to perform for the public,” the letter said.
“Sound, modern science should inform our regulations on marine mammal captivity,” Reps. Jared Huffman and Adam Schiff, Democrats from California, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, USDA has refused to act for nearly two decades, endangering humans and orcas alike."
The lawmakers assert that during a 2002 public comment period, the USDA received numerous recommendations for larger tank size and facility improvements, none of which have been adopted over a decade later.
CNN's Dana Davidsen and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.