A Review of the Releasability
of Long-Term Captive Orcas


  1. This report reviews relevant scientific knowledge to ascertain whether and under what circumstances a long term captive orca could safely be released or retired in its wild habitat. It concludes that a program of rehabilitation and retirement in native waters, with the ultimate option of release to rejoin the family of birth, presents no significant risk, either for the released animal or for wild populations.

    Orca family
  2. Return to native waters is called for in many cases because survival for captive orcas is significantly reduced in comparison to their wild counterparts.

  3. Many long term captive cetaceans have survived and thrived after release. Keiko, the star of Free Willy, is scheduled to return later this year for further rehabilitation prior to release in the waters of Iceland where he was taken at least 18 years ago.

  4. Any communicable disease or susceptibility can be detected in a candidate for release prior to potential exposure with wild populations.

  5. Long term captive orcas are capable of pursuing and catching live prey fish. Keiko has also proven his ability to do so, while using the echolocation ability that he has not needed for 18 years.

  6. The large extended families of orcas are tightly knit societies, indicating orcas have the ability to recognize and accept returned former captives even after a long absence.

  7. Communication systems used by orcas are retained regardless of length of time in captivity, indicating orcas have the ability to effectively communicate even after a long absence.

  8. The brain volume of an orca is tremendous, corresponding with their prodigious memory.

  9. Lolita, at the Miami Seaquarium, is an ideal candidate to proceed with a program of retirement for potential release.

    1. Introduction
    2. Survival rates in captivity
    3. Precedents
    4. Disease issues
    5. Foraging ability
    6. Social systems and bonds
    7. Communication
    8. Consciousness and memory
    9. Emotions
    10. Conclusions
    11. Recommendations
    12. Bibliography