Today, animal rights activists are supporting the release of sea creatures from aquariums into the wild in honor of “Empty the Tanks Day.”

While I sympathize with the desire to reenact “Free Willy,” as a former whale and dolphin trainer, I know firsthand that releasing them from their current habitats doesn’t usually have a Hollywood ending.

While we often imagine an uplifting image of a whale or dolphin swimming off into the sunset and freedom, the truth is much uglier. Marine mammals that have lived long periods, or their entire lives, in professional zoological care are simply not suited to thrive in the wild. Skills that wild animals learn from infancy simply don’t exist for ones from aquariums and zoos. They have never had to hunt, navigate the ocean, or evade predators before.

Mark Simmons is a fellow of the Center for the Environment and Welfare and the author of “Killing Keiko: The True Story of Free Willy’s Return to the Wild.” 

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