"...Marine-animal expert Jean-Michel Cousteau — who worked on the successful release of Keiko, the star of “Free Willy,” into a seaside pen (before he died in the wild) — said SeaWorld Entertainment can move its orcas to seaside sanctuaries without costing it money.This brief news article is the musings of John Michel Cousteau (the son of Jacques Cousteau) whose organisation Ocean Futures was involved in the release project of "Keiko" the killer whale..."
The comments in the above linked article in the New York Post by Claire Atkinson are of course misleading. Let us make it clear the "Keiko" project was not a success. In making this statement, I mean that the plan to reintegrate this animal back into a population of wild killer whales off the shores of Iceland did not succeed despite huge amounts of time, money and planning. This is not just my opinion this is the conclusion of the peer review paper published in 2009 in the journal Marine Mammal Science HERE.
John Michel Cousteau himself has also made it clear that he does not now consider it viable to release long-term captive killer whales back to the wild.
My blog goes into more detail regarding returning captive cetaceans back to the wild HERE.
The releasing of former captive cetaceans has being given some extra impetus recently with the Born Free Foundation's publication of their project to release two former captive Turkish dolphins after extensive rehabilitation in 2012.
As with all these projects there needs to be a considerable amount of context to understand what they actually mean. These two animals released had in fact not been in captivity for any particularly long period of time; they had been caught within the area they returned to and they were young male bottlenosed dolphins. These three criteria are the actual reason that this release project was likely to have a high degree of success. In addition, it should be noted that it followed a protocol that was used in a successful experimental capture and release project by the late Dr Ken Norris and cetacean biologist Dr Randall Wells published in 1998 HERE.
As to Cousteau's involvements with the eight bottlenose dolphins currently displayed at the Baltimore Aquarium (of which only one was caught in the wild) I have blogged this in some detail linked HERE.
As an opinion, I would say that removing these animals from an urban aquarium to Hawaii goes completely against any value that displaying these animals could have had as there are a number of both captive and wild dolphin viewing opportunities in this particular part of the world. The fact that somebody like Cousteau does not understand the value of urban zoological collections (particularly displaying animals that people are unlikely to experience) speaks volumes and sadly smacks of rather distasteful celebrity elitism.
Releasing Cetaceans Back to the Wild