viewer discussion

should captive whales & dolphins be set free?


I would like to congratulate you in your presentation of this incredibly complex issue in a level-headed manner. I would, however, like to make one comment in defense of Sea World. Sea World is a huge resource of jobs and funds for all of the communities in which it is located. They make generous contributions to local charities, organizations, and even schools! They are generally well respected.

Jesse Mendelsohn
San Diego, California


I offer my comments from what I would consider to be a unique, though certainly not exclusive perspective.

As a late baby boomer, I was raised in a renovated beach house on Central Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. I would thus consider myself to be from what was really the first generation to be taught that dolphins and Orcas were truly intelligent animals, and that they were not to be feared, but revered.

I'm very aware that TV helped form this 'new perspective', as my first and favorite lunch box was from the show, "Flipper". However, it was after watching your "Frontline" show which investigated the history and future of Whale captivity, that spurned me to share what has truly formed my own personal beliefs on this issue. As an 8 year old boy throwing rocks on the beach one afternoon, I witnessed one of the most horrifying spectacles one could ever hope not to see. Two commercial fishing seiners were in the process of netting a young Orca for show. He thrashed furiously to free himself. Outside the nets remained the rest of his or her pod, swimming in circles around the boats, whistling in frustration as the fisherman did eventually hoist the violent young Whale onto the back of the boat.

"Namu" was already a local folk hero to all the kids at my school then, so this had truly struck an emotional chord. I had never been that frustrated at such an early age. I vividly remember wanting to walk across the water to board the boats, free the Whale, then throw both boats crews into the Sound with him. Instead I could only burst into tears and watch this 45 minute ordeal from the beach. To see this at such an impressionable age, to hear the whales and feel their sense of betrayal first hand, one can truly know that these animals can not be owned and that they truly belong in their own oceans. I do feel that the media has actually done a wonderful job of helping the Western world understand Orcas, and that those efforts need to continue for future generations, especially in the Eastern Block.

The same media can perpetuate this message with what it has already showed us to date. Marine Parks have also served as an invaluable educational tool in this educational process, remember Namu, but like the typewriter, they have served their purpose in time and need to be phased out so we all can move ahead. No new typewriters are currently being made, yet there are still some in existence, and let us not forget that the pages they have produced have allowed us to evolve to this point.

Unfortunately, the reality is that Orcas under confinement now will not make it in the wild, and that there are some equally real economic and 'people' costs that we have created and that can not be ignored, even in Iceland. Yet even in Iceland, they can slowly learn to use the computer as well.

Therefore I would support an outphasing of Marine Parks and of all Orca captivity, but through an attrition of their existing stocks. They would thus have an economic incentive to be sure their remaining Whales had only the best of care to ensure their longevity, and it would directly decrease the bounty demand now offered to foreign fisherman. Kids would have one, last chance to see the Whales, yet they will also be able to appreciate their last visits and understand why their own children will not have such an opportunity. They will be able to learn the same lessons, just by different means Though I'm sure I'm not the first person to champion this ideal, I do see this as a practical solution formed in the spirit of compromise, a spirit which must be adhered to with so many different valid interests and views at stake.

Tom Allard
Walnut Creek, CA


I have always been a person that has hated to go to zoo's because I hate to see animals in cages. I had the chance to go to Sea World when we were in San Diego a couple of years ago but declined to go since I hate to see whales or dolphins in small tanks compared to where they came from.

I live in Bremerton, WA and we have had a pod of 19 orca visiting Dyes Inlet for the past 2 weeks. I have been enjoying watching them in their natural habitat. I know that not every one is able to do that and that is why they enjoy going to places like Sea World. But people need to be informed about how they get caught and torn away from their families. It is kidnapping. Some people say, "They are just animals", and they don't realize how really smart these huge mammals are.

I had a real hard time watching the dry fishing segment. I cried to see what is done to these beautiful intelligent animals. It broke my heart. I appreciate the time it took to air this informative program.

Thank you again.


I was involved in early study of echolocation by aquatic mammals 40 years ago. The increase in general awareness and knowledge of these animals since then has been immense. The Sea Worlds have been a big factor in this. Of course we should do as much as possible to see that these animals are treated humanely. I am more concerned for the fate of the thousands of wild animals whose food supply is disappearing. Over fishing, wasteful fishing practices, and destruction of fish spawning habitat are dooming these mammals. This is far more serious than the fate of the few dozen, but highly visible, captives.

Joan Gates
Elk, CA 95432


Thanks for another great show, this time on whales. For all the justification by the commercial entities about how they use these animals for the publics benefit, (i.e. education and entertainment) the fact remains that the profit motive is the driving force behind the exploitation of these magnificent creatures. When they place a bounty on these animals by paying large amounts for them, thereby increasing the capturing and marketing of them, and try to keep this aspect from the publics consciousness, they have crossed the line from education to propaganda. The public does need to learn more about nature and wildlife, but more importantly, we need to be made aware of what we are doing to them and why.

I watched the NOVA program on wolves right before your program, and as evidenced by the wolf that was shot, and its radio-tracking collar cut off and dumped in a stream, the task of education is still quite formidable.

Dan Broadway
Lansing, NY


For the past three summers I have worked as a naturalist on a whale watching boat in the San Juan islands. The main attraction was the killer whale. On the trips we also saw porpoise, seals, eagles and a variety of sea birds. It is a great human fantasy to try to repair the damage we have done in taking these creatures from the wild and placing them in human made homes for our viewing pleasure and "educational purposes." I'm not saying that we did not learn a great deal from studies in captivity. But what we learned was just the basics. To learn how they really behave and what make these creatures so great, we must observe them in the wild.

It is really sad that many hundreds of killer whales and almost every other species have had to endure our desires to exploit them for our needs. Even sadder is that we are fooling ourselves to believe that we can successfully put them back and the damage will be reversed. As much as we want to undo the damage we have brought to these animals, we can't simply put them back. We took them and changed them forever.

Hope is not lost, we can still protect the whales by not capturing them for aquariums, by not killing them for delicacies, and by not breeding them to live in concrete tanks. We can understand that it is not every person's right to see whales for a cheap admission price. And that although ecotours or whale watching can be expensive and limiting to a family, it is definitely worth the wait and patience. Maybe after saving money and waiting for the opportunity to see these beautiful creatures humans will realize what a privilege it truly is. Having animals in nice little cages is greedy and selfish. It is taking advantage of a natural gift. Before becoming a naturalist I studied pictures and read about whales. We act as though we are entitled to every living creature at our beck and call. We are not entitled. We need to learn from the last thirty years of captivity. Instead of trying to release a few symbolic whales just to prove to ourselves that we can, we must examine how pollution and over fishing in the entire marine environment may ultimately bring to an end the entire ecosystem. Problems will not be solved by releasing a whale into an environment that is now foreign to him. Problems can be solved by examining our entire use of his lost home. Thanks for listening.

Jamie Bails
Puyallup, WA


Just wanted to let you know I found the show very informative and disturbing. Although it wasn't too shocking to learn that Sea World (like most corporations of its size) is basically up to nothing but adding to its piles of cash, I must admit I was a little surprised by the amount of time, effort and (especially) money behind the movement to liberate sea mammals -- whether from Sea World or other aquatic captivity.

I agree with the obvious slant of the piece -- that the hunting, capture and imprisonment of these noble and intelligent creatures (for monetary profit in the guise of human amusement/entertainment/education) is a sad and terrible thing. However, I'll never understand what makes billionaires (and non-billionaires) think that the liberation of a single killer whale (who, after his 18 years of captivity, looked to have quite a bit of trouble stalking and killing a live meal) is such a worthy goal. In Willy's particular case, the idea seems extremely ignorant and nearsighted -- not to mention a classic example of treating a symptom rather than the cause.

I wish more people with virtually unlimited amounts of money would see the futility and selfishness of investing in preserving the rights of animals (that don't need to earn money to exchange for food, clothing and shelter)when healthy, well-educated human beings are the real solution and the only real hope. It just seems odd... that the elaborate plan to free Willy shall not be unsuccessful due to lack of money... while plenty of people (even in America, god's favorite country) with much less elaborate plans (to make ends meet, to not starve or freeze to death this winter, etc.) most certainly will be unsuccessful due to lack of money.

The priorities and motives of some of these "humanists" just seemquestionable when there seems to be so much more going on in the world which should concern them. While I realize presenting this view was not the point of the piece, I just want you to know there's at least one person who felt a greater sense of human tragedy in the story.

Joe Collins
Colorado Springs, CO


Wow! Thanks so much for airing this program. Shows such as yours, more than anything else, expose to the general public the cruelties and atrocities that take place behind closed doors, things that the general public never hears about. I applaud you for the very thorough investigation that you did of Sea World, and for opening the eyes of the public to the fact that aquariums really are, first and foremost, big businesses.

As far as education is concerned, I laughed out loud when it was stated that these whale and dolphin shows are educational to the public. What a farce! The "education" that is really imparted is that it is perfectly OK and acceptable to take marine mammals from their natural habitat and their families, put them in little swimming pools for the rest of their lives, and teach them to do stupid and degrading tricks so we can be entertained.

Seeing these beautiful creatures perform those stupid tricks is NOT teaching children anything about the true nature of whales and dolphins. So how would I learn about them? I would watch PBS specials, which have taught me more about the lives and incredible beauty of marine mammals in one hour than I would ever learn in an amusement park.

Gloria Van Dellen
Chicago, IL


About eight years ago I went Sea World San Diego and I swore to never go back and to tell everyone I knew to do the same. To see these wonderful animals humiliated for a handful of fish was more than I could take. If all the animals in the park were given truer conditions to live in where they had to catch their meals, how many would do their silly tricks?

It's far from natural for them to tote pretty gals around on there bellys or wave at us while they swim by. I'm a saddle maker and a horse trainer so I support my family on what humans can ask an animal to do, but I never broke a horses spirit or took away there dignity in riding or training them.

When I saw that big beautiful whale slip up and out of water and I could look in it's eye this grown man cried like a baby, tears streamed from my eyes. I've never before or since been affected like that.
Please set captive whales and dolphins free.

Al Ruiz
Mapleton, Utah


Once again Frontline was impressive. Tonight's program about a Whale of a Business proved once again that if there is a profit to be made, we'll throw away even our most basic convictions. We'll do everything we can to free Keiko, until he comes to our aquarium and our paid attendance doubles. Then we'll see. Maybe he should stay here awhile longer.

Unfortunately it is going to be like that everywhere. I think there is a lot to be learned from a place such as Sea World, or the aquarium in Oregon. But is the exploitation worth it? I used to think so, but now I've changed my mind. As we learn more about how complex some of these animals really are, the more I believe we owe them a great debt of apology.

Thank you, Frontline, for once again tackling tough issues and not dousing them with your own profit making slant. Good job PBS.

Ben Thurmond
Edgewood, New Mexico


Your expose' of the marine theme park business was informative. One obvious solution to the dilemma of whether or not to release Keiko into the wild after 18 years in captivity could easily be avoided if the Free Willie Foundation would spend their money on eliminating the brutal capture of these animals in the first place. The release of an ill prepared imprinted animal into the wild that can not even feed itself seems most likely to backfire and irreparably harm the very organizations trying to conserve natural resources and stop this cruelty.

Mark J. Wiesman DVM--not all veterinarians agree with those interviewed
on this broadcast.


As a long time animal activist, I can finally say this was a well researched, balanced and true expose on animal abuse. I am actually relieved that the truth has finally come out. I am so discouraged by the media in its non reporting of animal abuse, used only as a filler and never looks at both sides. Thank you, thank you,
thank you.

Mary C. Rumpsa


Thank you for all background information available on-line as well as thought-provoking program. I'm currently researching possible move of Florida manatees from Orlando to Sea World in San Diego and it was interesting to learn of S/W history without benefit of press relations people. Other data is stunning in its complexity. Congratulations on spending the time to show several sides of the issue of captive marine mammals. It is frightening to think of a time when the only mammals you know about are in aquaria; what happens when these creatures no longer earn money for their sponsors? It makes me uncomfortable to know of marine mammals in any kind of captivity situation, except for temporary rehabilitation, and I have extensively interviewed medical personnel in zoo situations, as well as leading marine biologists. What is necessary for health/protection one day may not be in vogue another; that is where I find huge dangers.

Once again, congratulations on this superior program. It changed my mind on subject of my next newspaper column (I write a nature-type column every week, alternating manatees with other creatures of the water and air). Hope I can get to sleep tonight as there is much to think about after viewing your excellent program, and reading background notes which were, again, truly superb.
Thank you again!

Grace Gilbert


I am avid "in the wild" whale watcher, and although I admit visiting Sea World, that is no where near the thrill of seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.

With on-line interactivity marine theme parks could foster public awareness, and achieve a profit with a little change in their thinking. There's real whale watching on the web now, they could phase out whale entertaining. I have no plans to ever go to SW to see whales instead I plan my vacations around REAL whale watching, and utilize whale adoptions. Right now there is another whale in need of rescue from what will be sure death. At the Miami Seaquarium
Lolita is a captured whale from the Puget Sound whose supporters want to return to her home. Maybe you could bring this whales plight to your show. You can get the details of the Lolita Come Home Project at After visiting & whale watching in the Puget Sound I was saddened, since I got to know these whales, and to learn one of their family members was taken away. Thanks for bring this issue to the public.

R. Whitaker
Battle Creek MI


I am very disappointed with your retreat from professional journalism as displayed in your "A Whale of a Business" program.

At the beginning of your whale program I thought perhaps your producers and writers would be able to provide an objective look at the killer whale/captivity issues. I was disappointed that you, like the rest of the media, took the subjective, pop-biology road. You gave legitimacy to those "whale-huggies" based on their ability to cry on cue or create their own publicity.

I am very disappointed by Frontline for jumping on the (20-year) old band wagon. Who did your research? Where did you get your pseudo-facts about whales? Why didn't you further explore the fact that the Oregon Coast Aquarium almost went under (and may still be in financial jeopardy.) Where did all the money raised to allegedly help Keiko, go anyway? In addition, what do alleged events (better
described as "gossip") from 20 years ago have to do with current research, knowledge, or goals of any scientist? Why was that the basis of the interview for the scientists? You never dug into the
background of the animals rights people (what they did 20 years ago) and questioned them. What are their credentials?

Also, you let the producers of the movie act like heroines. If the were so appalled, why did they make the movie, personally make millions, gain notoriety all from the use of the whale. Why didn't they donate "all" their profits to the betterment of Keiko's plight?

Why didn't you discuss topics like the illegal release of dolphins by an animal rights group in Florida? And how those dolphins were found days later, starving to death....Sadly, your one-sided report continues to add to a generation ignorant of science and how nature works.

Saying things like killer whales aren't killers - did you see the National Marine Fisheries footage of the pod attacking the sperm whales? Have you ever seen a killer whale shake a penguin so hard the flesh is ripped off the body?

Everyday I answer questions from children so confused or brain washed by this type of biased, poorly researched reporting. They truly think animals in the wild do not die. They think they live out in the sunny ocean playing and singing. Life is not a Disney movie.

These same groups that claim their love of whales are the ones prohibiting scientists from learning about wild populations. They block many of the research projects or make them nearly impossible to complete. Why? Knowledge is power. The more we know about the animals, the better we'll understand how our interactions affect them. Of course, then the heart-wrenching hogwash would be uncovered and these groups could scam the millions of dollars from our ignorance.

Seeing nature in action can be an amazing, beautiful and, yes, harsh. Whales are extraordinary. But so are fish, crabs, and a multitude of plants and animals. Many of which are truly endangered. (Did your researchers even know that killer whale populations are not remotely threatened or endangered? Their populations, worldwide, are strong and healthy.) These are animals, not gods. Many, many cultures rely on whales and other marine animals to survive. It is only the American super-ego that claims we can pick and choose the cutest animals to save.

Why didn't you report on the staggering number sea turtles killed to get shrimp? Sea turtles are endangered, but I hear no great outcry because they are not "warm and fuzzy". Why didn't I hear about the pollution going in to the St. Lawrence seaway that may be causing birth defects and otherdetriments to white whale populations? Or the less than 500 vaquita remaining in the Gulf? Why? They're not popular. The animals rights groups can't make money off them - so you'll never report on them. And, lastly, you didn't mention the most important irony - perhaps hypocrisy. Millions and millions of dollars were raised to save one whale. Money continues to be raised on behalf of this animal, who is now better cared for then most of our children and senior citizens. This should scare you. It does me.

Ruth Musgrave

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