A Review of the Releasability
of Long-Term Captive Orcas
wide array of misleading and unfounded statements have emerged from representatives of the marine park industry to discourage the release of certain valuable marine mammals.
According to the Miami Seaquarium web site (Appendix M):
If moved to a new environment, Lolita could be at risk of transmitting or acquiring disease agents she has either become resistant to or has no resistance to, respectively. Not only is this a risk to Lolita, but also to the free ranging killer whale population.
An unsigned letter from the Miami Seaquarium dated September 9, 1997 (Appendix L) states:
Keiko will never be released. He has an incurable viral infection called papillomavirus. While it can be controlled with medication, it remains in the animal's system for the remainder of its life. The infection of papilloma in the killer whale is the first time it has been diagnosed in the species. Many animals get it, dogs cats, horses, and even people. Because of this contagious infection, Keiko will never be introduced to wild populations.
The letter goes on to say:
If those people who (sic) would ask you for money for Keiko's release, or for Lolita's, be aware that they are asking you for money under less than honest circumstances.
In January, 1998, a team of six veterinarians appointed by the USDA found no such contagious disease on Keiko (Appendix J). The USDA said:
Immunological test results are apparently within known normal parameters, and there was no evidence of recent viral challenges to 48 different viruses.
The government of Iceland, which is highly protective of the productivity of the marine environment, has concluded that Keiko presents no threat to native species.
Prior to any departure from Miami, Lolita should and would be given the same comprehensive examination that was performed for Keiko under the auspices of the USDA. It is worth noting that nowhere in the Seaquarium web site or in the cited letter is it stated that Lolita actually has contracted any such disease.
Among the hundreds of marine mammals that have been released over the years after human contact, including the many dolphins, pilot whales and manatees released by the Seaquarium, there are no incidents of suspected infection of, or by, wild populations.
There is no evidence that Lolita has any contagious disease, nor is there reason to believe that she lacks immunity to any diseases found in her native habitat, to which she would have been exposed early in her life. Nevertheless, it is a clearly necessary prerequisite to any consideration of her return to her native habitat that she be examined thoroughly to remove any doubt that her reintroduction to her home waters would be entirely safe for her and for her family.
Nolan Harvey of the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation says: "Of course, we're concerned about that [disease] issue," Harvey said. "It's a justifiable issue, but it's also an excuse for a lot of people. Stranded animals come into contact with humans and with other animals that are not necessarily their species. They've been releasing marine mammals back into the wild for years. We can test him for every possible thing," he said (Oregonian, October 25, 1997).
- Survival rates in captivity
- Disease issues
- Foraging ability
- Social systems and bonds
- Consciousness and memory