Free Willy , Part ??
Mon, 24 May 1994 08:36:40

Return-Path: <>
Received: from by VMSVAX.SIMMONS.EDU (MX V3.1C) with SMTP; Tue, 24 May
          1994 08:29:41 EDT
Date: Tue, 24 May 1994 8:33:25 -0400 (EDT)
Message-ID: <>
Subject: Free Willy , Part ??
From:	SMTP%"MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET" 24-MAY-1994 01:29:08.68
Subj:	captive release of killer whales (fwd)
Date:         Mon, 23 May 1994 22:26:34 PDT
Reply-To:     Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Sender:       Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
From:         Robin Baird <>
Subject:      captive release of killer whales (fwd)
To:           Multiple recipients of list MARMAM <MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET>
Forwarded Message:
Re: Keiko
The comments regarding Keiko's rehabilitation for potential
reintroduction have been interesting and informative. I appreciate
the opportunity to continue the discussion.
In regard to Keiko's chances of surviving more than three more
years in captivity, the statistics I was referring to are contained
in an unpublished manuscript, A Note on Age-Specific Mortality and
Life Span of Orcinus Orca, by Kenneth Balcomb. It is curious that
two writers cited DeMasters and Drevenak (Mar Mamm Sci 4 (4): 279-
311  1988) as somehow supporting the idea that mortality in
captivity is similar to mortality in the wild. The article says no
such thing. I quote: "These data [Bigg 1982] indicate that, at
least for killer whales, survival in captivity may be less than
survival off Vancouver Island, British Columbia." DeMaster and
Drevenak further state: "Until additional studies are completed, it
will not be possible to compare the survivability of free-ranging
animals...with captive animals." DeMaster and Drevenak go on to
say, "At this time it is not possible to compare the survivability
of animals in  captivity with that of animals in the wild." Scott
and DeMaster (Mar Mamm Sci, in press) provide a more recent
treatment of age-specific mortality in captivity. The only
statistic that might provide an answer to the question of how much
longer Keiko may have to live in captivity is the average survival
rate of male killer whales, which is 0.88, which seems to mean that
each year 12% of the male killer whales in captivity will die, but
"There was insufficient information to test the influence of age on
In our study area, one pod, (J pod, 20 whales) contains 3 adult
males. One (J3) was photoidentified as approximately 15 years old
in 1968, one (J6) was photographed in 1974 at about 18, and the
third (J1) was photographed as an adult, therefore over 20 years
old, in 1972. They are all alive and well today at ages of 38 to
40+. Olesiuk, Bigg and Ellis (1990) estimated a mean life
expectancy of 29.2 years for male killer whales, and 50.2 years for
females. They estimated sexual maturity for males to occur at 15.0
years, physical maturity at 21.0 years with maximum estimated age
trajectories for males on the order of 50-60 years. In captivity
only 2 male killer whales have survived past the age of 20. One,
Hyak, died at about the age of 26; the other, Orky,
died at about 29. At least 42 male killer whales have died in
captivity either before or at the onset of physical maturity. At
least 24 of these deaths occurred after more than 6 months in
captivity (Hoyt 1990). Keiko is about 17. It looks to me like Keiko
probably has about 3 years to live in any captive situation.
In Gates' comments, what is the implication of the statement that
"...the majority of our knowledge comes from studies of animals in
the Vancouver Island area not the Atlantic."? Is the suggestion
that there may be significantly different life cycles and
maturation rates within the same species in the two oceans? Is that
really likely?
Regarding the case of Ulisses, I regret having made a hasty
generalization, and I appreciate the clarification by Klinowska.
While it is true that the owners made the final determination to
keep Ulisses in captivity, they followed the recommendations of the
panel, which advised against release for two basic reasons,
according to Klinowska. One reason was that there was no detailed
plan for his rehabilitation and release. The development of such a
plan, of course, is dependent upon sufficient lead time, sufficient
funding, the will to research the precedents and the relevant
references in the literature, and the creativity to innovate where
procedures have not previously been attempted. For Keiko, such a
plan has been prepared by the Center for Whale Research.
The other reason given to not proceed with release - dealing with
the logistics of a release off Iceland, both governmental and
meteorological - would indeed be problematic, but not impossible.
The Icelandic government's objection to release on the grounds that
disease could be transmitted to the wild population certainly
deserves serious consideration. This possibility can only be
ascertained by means of thorough examinations, and even then
absolute certainty may not be possible. The chances that every
virus found on any animal will be identifiable and benign are
probably remote. The decision to release or not would most likely
come down to informed risk assessment by highly qualified
specialists. To my knowledge the necessary tests have not been done
and an independent panel has not been convened to determine the
risk. Thus no one is yet qualified to pass judgement on the
question, including the Icelandic government. Is the possibility of
an epidemic being emphasized beyond what the facts and a
conservative concern for safety would dictate, in order to block a
potential release? Geraci and Ridgway (Mar Mamm Sci 7 (2):191-194)
state: "The fine line between infection and infectious disease
depends on both the virulence of the organism and the
susceptibility of the host (Isenberg and Balows 1981)" Geraci and
Ridgway further state: "Microorganisms that might be newly
introduced by humans or other sources would, for the most part, add
to the microbial pool, with no particular benefit or harm to a
healthy, immunologically competent animal." If we can assume that
free-ranging North Atlantic killer whales generally have healthy
immune systems, perhaps the risk is minimal. Keiko would not be
released unless and until his immune system was deemed healthy. The
fact that marine mammals are routinely returned to native and non-
native habitats without much concern for the spread of disease may
not be sound practice, but the record does provide a data base to
help inform the assessment of health risk associated with
future reintroductions. The panel advising Ulisses' owners could
have requested time and funding to prepare a release plan and could
have performed the tests to determine whether the Icelandic
government's fears of disease transmission were warranted, if the
notion of release had been acceptable to the owners.
Re: Gates' complaints: Keiko's release plan does include locating
Keiko's pod via photoidentification and DNA fingerprinting.
Sufficient frozen fish will be carried aboard the vessel
accompanying Keiko on the journey to Iceland. Iceland has not given
permission, as they are potentially a whaling and a whale-capturing
nation. Article 243 of the Convention of the Law of the Sea says
that "States shall cooperate... to create favorable conditions for
the conduct of marine scientific research in the marine environment
and to integrate the efforts of scientists in studying the essence
of phenomena and processes occurring in the marine environment and
the interrelations between them". Who will join in requesting the
Icelandic government to cooperate in an experimental
reintroduction? No, Balcomb and co. will not ignore the U.S. Navy's
findings. The U.S. Navy, however, ignored known telemetry
technology when it issued the report advising against cetacean
Re: Klinowska's objections: The plan to swim Keiko from the Bahamas
to Iceland is an example of the innovation required to accomplish
a new task. At first glance it may seem to ask too much of Keiko to
swim so far, but there are reasons for doing so. He will already
have gotten plenty of exercise and should be in good physical
condition, if he is willing to go out on sea trials, as per the
U.S. Navy's experiments. The swim north will further build his
stamina, as he simultaneously acclimatizes to northern
conditions. There will be no trauma of transport which could weaken
his stamina and/or immune system. Whales of his size, for example
humpback calves, make similar journeys on a regular basis. Other
than the novelty of the idea, I am curious to know of any specific
The Center for Whale Research is currently distributing copies of
Cetacean Reintroductions and An Annotated Bibliography. Interested
parties are requested to write to CWR, P.O. Box 1577, Friday
Harbor, WA 98250 for a copy.
Center for Whale Research