Jean-Michel Cousteau Calls for Captive Orcas to be Retired to Seaside Sanctuaries

April 28, 2016 (Santa Barbara, CA)
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Holly S. Lohuis, Ocean Futures Society
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Keiko was captured off Iceland when he was two years old and was ultimately sold to a theme park in Mexico City. After 20 years in captivity, private donors paid to rehabilitate Keiko and move him back to Iceland where he could experience the ocean again in an enclosed bay and on open ocean walks guided by his caregivers. Courtesy Ocean Futures Society

Santa Barbara, CA – Jean-Michel calls for captive orcas to be retired to seaside sanctuaries under continued human supervision and care so that these intelligent, sophisticated animals may live out their lives in their enriching ocean home. These seaside sanctuaries or enclosures, would allow orcas to live out their days experiencing the rhythmic ebbs and flows of the sea, swim in larger enclosures than those offered at SeaWorld, and have the opportunity to experience an ocean life they deserve while being monitored and cared for by trained professionals.

While speaking at a press event hosted by PETA in San Diego, Jean-Michel discussed his experience working with Keiko, the orca of “Free Willy” fame. Jean-Michel described how Keiko’s rehabilitation efforts and his release into a seaside sanctuary immensely enhanced his quality of life. Keiko was the first ever attempt to release a captive orca into the wild, and the team learned many lessons from the experience. Jean-Michel is not advocating that all captive orcas be set free into the wild. Instead, Jean-Michel believes that all captive orcas can be relocated to larger, more humane and more enriching seaside sanctuaries.

Humans have taken these remarkable animals highly adapted to life in the ocean and locked them up in concrete tanks one-millionth the size of their natural range. Jean-Michel simply believes that orcas, and all other whales and dolphins, deserve the chance to live out their lives back in the ocean, where they can feel the ocean, interact in the natural environment, and utilize their extraordinary sense of sound in ways they could never do in captivity.

Jean-Michel also notes that SeaWorld and other marine parks can connect audiences using digital and live-streaming technologies to these seaside sanctuaries, and the public can continue to interact with caretakers and learn about the orcas progress readapting to ocean life and discuss the threats orcas face in the wild. To protect and conserve orcas, we must understand and educate the public about the real threats they face from human activities and get the public engaged in finding solutions to these problems.

“We no longer need to keep orcas in jail to learn from them,” Jean-Michel says. “It is time for the captivity of orcas to be part of our past, and not a tragic part of our future.”

About Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society
The mission of Ocean Futures Society is to explore our global ocean, inspiring and educating people throughout the world to act responsibly for its protection, documenting the critical connection between humanity and nature, and celebrating the ocean's vital importance to the survival of all life on our planet. For more information, please visit