With the recent incident of Tilikum, the killer whale, drowning one of Sea World's experienced trainers (and this not being an isolated incident), it begs the question... what is going to happen to Tilikum and other orca in captivity?
Possibly the more appealing option is release into the wild. To rehabilitate them is long and labour intensive - Keiko, the star of Free Willy, was gradually introduced back into the wild in 1998 and finally released in 2002, where he died from pneumonia a year later. Such a loss was also made painful by the failure in the effort. Keiko lost weight and therefore it was made clear that he was unable to hunt and care from himself. He never interacted with other orca and was always followed by a human "baby-sitter". Even when migrating to Norway, Keiko displayed clear signs of human interaction - seeking boats etc for company. In all, Keiko never really was as free as his Hollywood persona appeared to be. Sadly, releasing an animal into the wild, even after extensive rehabilitation does not mean success in terms of reintroduction.
Since Tilikum has participated in or been the instigator of 2 other incidents resulting in human death, reintroduction to the wild, sadly, would not be an option. But if this animal is destroyed, then what is the fate for the rest of the captive orca population? Would it not be a better idea to phase out the captive programs in lieu of maintaining small populations for the sole purpose of entertainment? Since orca are a wide-ranging species (spotted in most of the world's oceans) they are not use to boundaries and limitations in their "geographical" range, having more vast, open environment than most terrestrial species. In my personal opinion, seeing a wild pod interact with each other and their natural surroundings would be far more entertaining and educational. Yet I understand that the success rate of reintroduction to the wild is made greater in younger animals which have spent limited time in captivity. So, reintroduction will never really be an option for most of these orca as a large percentage are older than 20 years (males in the wild live to an average of 29 years).
Image from: http://www.myspace.com/tillykum