Jean-Michel Cousteau's Letter to L.A. Times Editor about Keiko

March 17, 2016

Jean-Michel Cousteau's Letter to L.A. Times Editor about Keiko


Jean-Michel Cousteau with Keiko. © Tom Ordway, Ocean Futures Society

Dear Editor of The L.A. 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 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 seaside sanctuaries.

I know it can be done. We can move beyond captivity and embrace a future with interactive educational technologies that allow people to take action and become decision-makers instead of spectators. Using engaging digital technology, people can discover through experience, learning how marine mammals communicate, hunt, socialize, and deal with conflicts and environmental challenges around them. By allowing people the opportunity to make choices, in this way, the public learns through action. We can also connect aquariums to real-time systems that monitor animals in the wild or those being rehabilitated or retired at seaside sanctuaries. I believe this is the future of aquariums, with an end to profit-driven captivity of cetaceans and other large animals.

I appreciate Mr. Manby’s consideration and I thank him for his announcement today.

Warm regards,


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