Aquatic Life

Are Sea Pens The Solution for Captive Marine Mammals?

In March 2016, SeaWorld announced the end to their orca breeding program. This is great news to future generations of killer whales that won't be born into captivity, but it brings up an important question for the orcas that remain: will they be released into the wild, or will they live out their days in a concrete tank? Whales and other marine mammals are extremely intelligent, and living in a tank that's a tiny fraction of their natural habitat causes untold physical and psychological issues for the animals. But experts almost unanimously agree that releasing marine mammals that have lived every moment of their lives in captivity -- with no knowledge of how to catch food or otherwise survive without humans -- is a death sentence. There could be a third option: sea pens. These huge, cordoned-off coastal habitats would work on principles similar to wildlife sanctuaries for elephants and great apes, just in the ocean. Humans would provide medical care and other protection, but the animals wouldn't be forced to perform for or otherwise interact with visitors. SeaWorld and other experts are critical of the plan. Sea pens have failed to protect whales in the past; sometimes famously, as in the case of Keiko, the whale depicted in "Free Willy" who escaped his pen and died a few months later. The damaged animals would be exposed to weather, pollution, and other environmental threats that they didn't experience in captivity. There's also the cost, which could reach the tens of millions of dollars, though groups say this could be offset by outreach and educational programs. We've collected some awesome videos on this topic. Watch them now to learn more.

How SeaWorld's Orcas Could Go Home Again | CAPTIVE | TakePart

Key Facts In This Video

  1. In March 2016, SeaWorld brought an end to its killer-whale breeding program. 29 orcas remain in captivity. 00:00

  2. A sea pen is a cordoned-off habitat that serves as a sanctuary for rescued marine mammals. Here's what one might look like. 00:36

  3. The cost of building and maintaining the pens, which could be tens of millions of dollars, could be offset by educational programs. 01:35

Written by Curiosity Staff July 18, 2016

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