'The release of Keiko demonstrated that release of long-term captive animals is especially challenging and while we as humans might find it appealing to free along-term captive animal, the survival and well being of the animal may be severely impacted in doing so.'
The news items conclusion seems to be that the project was a failure. This is even admitted by some of the supports of the project on video like Naomi Rose - former scientist to the Humane Society of the United States.
One has to question what would (or could) happen to any other long term captive killer whales if the animal rights supporters got their hands on them - as they are still trying to do. In my opinion, the release of long-term captive animals is never justified on welfare grounds as 'Keiko' demonstrates. Releasing animals for conservation reasons is, of course, very different. It is acknowledge that animals could die during this process and it is likely not to serve the welfare interests of individual animals involved.
As stated, the 'Keiko' experiment was a failure. Those who cannot grasp this are deluding themselves and showing contempt for the welfare of this animal. Certainly, his move to Oregon Coast Aquarium was right; there is a consensus regarding this across all opinions. However, releasing him to the wild was a grave and expensive mistake. Those such as Naomi Rose who voice that 'Keiko' was better off having a number of years in the wild (with him not integrating and thus isolated from his con-species) are sadly just expressing their own self-serving and selfish interests against these animals being displayed in aquaria and zoos.
Those who continue to voice support for the release of animals such as 'Lolita' are also deluding themselves. As despite the fact that her capture site and pod is known, she has been in captive care for 43 years; with many of her original sub-pod now dead and the dynamics of this group having completely changed with the passage of time; further there appears to be a dispute as to whom her mother might be. More importantly, she is also totally habituated to humans in the same way as 'Keiko'.
More details of the 'Keiko' experiment can be found in Killing Keiko: The True Story of Free Willy's Return to the Wild by Mark A. Simmons
See: Lolita The Killer Whale: Why She Can’t Be Released
In the report, it also mentioned the young stranded and rehabilitated killer whale 'Morgan' a female killer whale rescued in 2010. This animal was deemed unreleasable, as her family are not known; all that is known is she came from fish-eating Norwegian killer whales. More importantly, she is also hearing impaired or actually deaf, which is why she may have stranded miles from her home range.
See: Morgan - A suitable candidate for rehabilitation and release?
As far as reintroduction is concerned, mention should be made of the story of 'Springer' an orphaned killer whale discovered in 2002 and eventually identified as a member of A-4 pod. However, whilst this animal was successfully rehabilitated and reintroduced to her family, she was only held in captivity in a sea pen for a period of weeks (12 June to 13 July 2002); during that time, she was fed, treated and monitored. She was then moved to a sea pen near her family and released the next day; fortunately, she did reintegrated back to her family and has been observed over a number of years.
The key point about 'Springer' is that she was held for weeks not years; never in an aquarium; and all efforts were made to ensure she did not become habituated to humans. Any comparison to this successful reintroduction is clearly bogus when related to long-term whales caught decades ago and their captive bred off-spring which now are producing second generation of captive bred animals; all of which have been totally habituated to humans.
Finally an interesting comment from Jean-Michel Cousteau who organisation Ocean Futures was directly involved in the 'Keiko' release project.
Addendum. 24 August 2015
Could Vancouver be home to the first sea sanctuary for cetaceans?
It will be interesting to see what proposals there are when this workshop proceedings published because as in many things the devil is in the details. Clearly from things that are being stated in the article – particular from Howard Garratt – the comprehension of what is involved in keeping large marine mammals such as killer whales healthy in captive environments is not fully grasp.
The idea that you could place a large animal into a sea pen without any fundamental facility to contain the animal and to remove it from this environment for full and comprehensive physical examination and treatment for any illnesses demonstrates the fantasyland that some of these people are living in. Getting an animal to cooperate when it maybe ill to voluntarily beach itself on a "rubber tarp" would be amusing if the welfare implications for the animal were not so serious. And what if there were to be a major environmental incident how will these animals be protected or indeed removed to a place of safety. This is feasible with something like a bottlenose dolphin but for a large mammal like killer whale this is going to be a very difficult proposition.
See: Sea Pens: Not the Panacea They Are Perceived.
Nonetheless, one of the fundamental issues that seems to be always overlooked when the animal-rights lobby propose such projects is how it is going to be financed. If we take for example the project to release Keiko the killer whale some have estimated that this project cost in the region of 20 million dollars.
So it would be prudent to ask where are these huge sums of money coming from. The only feasible way would be from public donation and I cannot see the sums of money required being raised; do not expect the likes of PeTA to give any sums of money to such projects as this would jeopardise the directors of such "charities" their comfortable salaries and generous pensions. Getting a plane to fly over SeaWorld's with a banner saying "SeaWorld sucks" is a world of difference from committing serious financial investment in the project alluded to in the article.
There is some research to suggest that whilst many people on social media may be happy to make various comments or sign online petitions their commitment and interest does not extend to physically taking part even in demonstrations let alone putting their hands in their pockets and giving relatively large amounts of money to such projects outlined above.
Of course, there are celebrities who would be prepared to donate money to such projects but as these kinds of projects are now proliferating at quite a great rate (not only involving cetaceans but other carnivores such as lions and tigers and, of course, elephants) that the money supply is not going to be infinite. And of course we also have the situation of "donor fatigue" even if people wish to give money to such projects.
Finally, we come to the thorny issue of whether such a project would be allowed in British Columbia if the muted ban on cetaceans in captivity – promoted by various politicians – is passed into law. How could such a project be justified particularly if it is open to the general public; which for financial reasons is going to be quite likely.
Despite the fact that many would like to label such facilities as "sanctuaries" they are fundamentally no different from any other zoological collection. And the terms sanctuary is to me a weasel word used by the animal-rights lobby to somehow put them above other zoological establishments. These facilities will use exactly the same animal husbandry technologies, veterinary science and training protocols that has been developed over the decades in zoos and aquariums. They are fundamentally the same and as far as the animals are concerned, they would notice no difference.