Orca – Keiko

Keiko’s release still debated

Update 2016 ~ Read more…

Keiko was the orca star of the movie, Free Willie.  People around the world demanded Keiko’s freedom when they learned that the box office star of a movie about setting a captive orca free – was still a captive himself.  News of the deplorable conditions of his captivity and its effects on his health spurred the public to fight for – and win – Keiko’s careful rehabilitation and release.


Those against returning freedom to captive orcas point to Keiko’s release as a failure.  They say he was abandoned and died alone.  This is simply not true.


Keiko lived the last 5 years of his life in the sea that he was so brutally taken from as a youngster.  Fifteen months of that 5 years was lived entirely free and by his own choice.  When he chose to resume contact with humans, his wishes were again honored and he was cared for the rest of his life.


The right to live free, to live according to his own choices, should not be under-valued!



KOMO 4 News



Free Willy: Keiko’s Journey Home

Produced and written by Stanly M. Minasian and Raymond Chavez


Frontline: A Whale of a Business

The authoritative presence generated by people such as Brad Andrews, SeaWorld’s zoological director, lend the illusion of wildlife advocacy to the captive cetacean industry. This powerful full length feature will dispel that illusion with clear facts. Centered around the work to release Keiko, the orca made famous by the movie, Free Willy, this video exposes the heart of the marine park industry and its part in marketing free souls to the public.



Update August 2016

The debate over Keiko’s rehab and release will apparently continue as long as orca captivity is a topic of discussion! Why? One possible reason is that those who benefit monetarily or by the selfish personal desire to watch these intelligent giants perform tricks – will ignore all facts provided to continue their case for continued captivity. Why else would some people continue to ignore that Keiko lived on his own terms for the last five years of his life?

OSLO, Norway — Keiko, the killer whale made famous by the “Free Willy” movies, has died in Norwegian coastal waters where he remained after millions of dollars and a decade of work failed to coax him back to the open sea, his caretakers said early Saturday.
The whale, who was 27, died Friday afternoon after the sudden onset of pneumonia in the Taknes fjord. He was old for an orca in captivity, though wild orca live an average of 35 years. 
David Phillips, executive director of the San Francisco-based Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, said Keiko had been in good health but started showed signs of lethargy and loss of appetite on Thursday.

By David Kirby 2013
By all accounts, conditions in the Mexico City aquarium were extraordinarily rotten, especially compared with Keiko’s ocean home.

It cost millions to transport Keiko from his subpar tank at Mexico City’s Reino Aventura theme park, where he festered in warm tap-water mixed with sacks of table salt, to a specially built “rehab” center on the Oregon coast, then to another specially built seapen, floating inside a small cove in Iceland.

[Excerpt from the Associated Press via NBC News ~ updated 12/13/2003]

Keiko lived in Taknes Bay, a clear, calm pocket of coastal water deep enough that it doesn’t freeze in winter. Keepers fed him there, but he was free to roam and did, often at night. He was equipped with a VHF tracking device that let his four handlers pinpoint his location provided he stayed within a range of about five miles.

Keiko’s keepers said the whale seemed to adapt to living in the wild despite so many years in captivity, learning to slap his tail and do jumps called side breaches that are typically done to stun fish.

To keep Keiko in shape, his caretakers took him on “walks,” leading him around the fjords from a small boat at least three times a week.

After several months in his pen, Keiko was allowed to swim around the cove, which was blocked by a net from the sea. Eventually, the net was outfitted with a gate and Keiko was taken out for “walks” by a boat. He was fixed with a satellite tag to make sure he did not get lost. One day, after two years of this regime, he took off, ending up in Norway, 700 miles to the east, where he lived another 15 months before dying of natural causes. All told, he spent five years living in the sea.


Learn more from references:

20 years after ‘Free Willy’… ~ by David Kirby

Keiko the Killer Whale Dies ~ NBC News

Direct YouTube link to KOMO 4 News

Direct YouTube link to Free Willy: Keiko’s Journey Home





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