This letter originally appeared on the LA times.
While we applaud the SeaWorld decision to stop captive breeding and phase out theatrical shows, Mr. Manby’s characterization of the Keiko program as a failure misses the point. Keiko lived in the wild in a very large bay pen for the latter years of his life, interacted with orca and other wild animals in the open ocean, and gained health and stamina from being able to swim long distances. While he did not re-connect with wild orca on any permanent basis, he interacted with his own kind in his natural birth environment in ways that an artificial environment found in captivity could never provide.
As we congratulate SeaWorld for announcing this monumental step in ending the captive breeding program, I urge Mr. Manby to reconsider his statement about Keiko, and I ask him to understand that the quality of Keiko’s remaining years were significantly enhanced by having an opportunity to live in an ocean sea pen with many weeks of forays in the open ocean. The orcas in SeaWorld are living in bare and boring enclosures. These highly intelligent animals deserve to live their remaining years in a natural environment under human care. The overwhelming evidence of orca distress in captivity is far too great to ignore.
It is a fair request for Mr. Manby to continue to listen to the public. Not only has the public been asking for years to end the capture and breeding of captive orcas, but the public is now asking to finally close the chapter of captive orca history by retiring the remaining captive orcas and, at a minimum, allowing them the opportunity to swim wild under close supervision of human care in ocean enclosures.
The time has come for us to see orcas in captivity as a part of our past – not a tragic part of our future. Lets end the show now and retire these intelligent, social, complex animals to sea pen sanctuaries.