Jean-Michel Cousteau's Letter to the Prime Minister of Japan

October 24, 2016

Jean-Michel Cousteau's Letter to the Prime Minister of Japan

Prime Minister Abe,

It has been brought to my attention that the antiquated and inhumane practice of cetacean capture and imprisonment has continued throughout Japan. We have reached a point in our human evolution where we have come to realize that orcas are far too intelligent, sophisticated, and socially and behaviorally complex to be kept in concrete prisons. In captivity they suffer from mental distress, physical illness and shorter lifespan than they would live in their natural ocean homes.

Those of us that have had the enormous privilege to see whales or dolphins in the wild know it is an experience one is likely to cherish. There are many animals in the sea that captivate me, but none more than the magnificent and stunning marine mammals, the whales and dolphins of our oceans. No matter how many times I come across their grace and play in the water, I find myself filled with a sense of awe and majesty for our counterparts in the sea.

In captivity, it is not possible for orcas to form the same types of social relationships they have in the wild. They are often placed in tanks with orcas from different cultures communicating in different dialects. Sound is their primary sense used for communication, socialization, and hunting. When confined in concrete tanks, orcas cannot fully utilize this highly evolved sense of understanding the world around them. Without being able to swim, hunt or interact with others as they would in their natural ocean home, how can we ever expect to learn anything about their true behaviors? We have learned all we can from orcas in captivity, now it is time we return them to their ocean home. We can continue to study and conduct research on their incredible adaptations for life in the sea as they were meant to live, where we can learn about their true behavior.

Orcas are not for aquariums. Orcas are not for food. Orcas are not for school lunch. Orcas are not for pet food. Orcas are not for pig food. Orcas are not oil for restaurants. Orcas are not for compost. Orcas are not for construction concrete. Orcas are for the wild. They are the dominant species in the ocean. We are the dominant species on land, and we all depend on the same thing. As our societies evolve, so to must our perceptions about keeping such large, intelligent animals in unnatural confinements. How we treat orcas and other cetaceans is a reflection of how we view our natural world around us. It is time for our actions to reflect our understandings about the sentient beings with whom we share our planet and on which we depend for survival.

The time has come for us to see orcas in captivity as a part of our past – not a tragic part of our future. Let’s end the show now and retire these intelligent, social, complex animals to seaside sanctuaries.



Jean-Michel Cousteau
President, Ocean Futures Society

Jean-Michel Cousteau
Ocean Futures Society
513 De La Vina St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 899-8899