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Releasability Chapter 10

A Review of the Releasability of Long-Term Captive Orcas

Chapter 10

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This report has hopefully set out various lines of evidence that, taken together, show that a carefully planned and carried out rehabilitation program that leads to the options of releasing Lolita to rejoin her family or retirement in her native waters, entails no point at which there is any discernable risk to the orca's health or welfare, or to her family's. The "prototype" precedent is the nearly completed program to rehabilitate and release Keiko, with the exception that the facility in which Keiko regained his health would not be required for Lolita, since she is already relatively healthy, and her native waters are ideal for a seapen and available to her.

To summarize the points made:
  • Statistics and historical records indicate that Lolita's survival in captivity into her 30's is an abberation and the risk to her life increases as long as she remains in the Seaquarium. It is also clear that a larger tank would not appreciably improve her prospects, nor would transport to another marine park.
  • There are a number of precedents in which dolphins and small whales have been successfully released after long term captivity.
  • USDA examination protocols would be followed to ensure that Lolita is in good health and that no communicable diseases would be introduced to native orca populations.
  • Experience with Keiko and other experiments have shown that foraging skills, including echolocation, do not disappear during long term captivity.
  • Unique among mammals, in orca communities studied to date, including the Southern Residents, neither male nor female offspring disperse from the matrilineal family of birth for their entire lives.
  • Call systems used by orcas are highly sophisticated and are unique to each community. Lolita still uses the calls of her family, although she is soliltary. Thus mutual recognition between Lolita and her family is probable and would be easy to document.
  • Empirical experiments and a wealth of anecdotal evidence indicates that orcas retain important memories of performance routines and important relationships, whether with trainers or with other orcas, for long periods of time, in some cases for decades.
  • Given the stories told by trainers about their close relationships with orcas, and the observed demonstrations of affection between wild orcas, there is ample evidence that orcas are capable of a wide range of emotions, some of which may be similar to human emotions.
Overall, the conclusion that follows from the above is that Lolita would be much better off if moved to her native waters in preparation for rejoining her family of birth. Quoting the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard concerning Keiko:
[Keiko's] successful return to the wild is far from being a sure thing. But the progress to date has been encouraging. And if the net pen can be opened and Keiko can swim off into the north Atlantic to fend for himself, he'll have most of a lifetime to live as whales should.
Lolita can return home and can probably be released to her family. The evidence shows that she can resume her place in the family relationships that are essential in the natural life of an orca.

Chapter 9 | Contents | Chapter 11

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