Keiko was the real-life orca whale star of the hit movie, Free Willy. He was living in very poor conditions in a small tank in Mexico City. Free Willy moviemakers, Warner Brothers, approached us to lead the historic effort to help rescue Keiko.
We formed the Free Willy–Keiko Foundation to spearhead Keiko’s rescue. We built a state-of-the-art rescue and rehabilitation facility at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon, where Keiko was flown to bring him back to health. Once healthy, Keiko was then flown to a large ocean sea pen in his home waters of Iceland. There, he eventually left his pen and swam in the open Atlantic Ocean, often accompanied by wild whales. Keiko was the first captive orca whale ever returned to his home waters, a historic first. He lived out his life free of the stresses and dangers of life in a concrete tank. We continue to tell Keiko’s real-life story and how the retirement, rescue, and possible release or orcas and dolphins can work.
The whale captivity industry has steadfastly blocked all efforts to allow the retirement and potential release of any captive dolphins or whales. They fail to mention their own refusal to help Keiko when he was sick in Mexico, or how 8 orcas died at SeaWorld, and 20 at facilities around the world, during the time Keiko was rehabbed and released. Other captive orcas and dolphins may be candidates for rehab and release. We’re keeping Keiko’s legacy alive to help guide future efforts.
Laura Bridgeman, August 2018
"It's a message…They know they're being watched, they know what's going on, and they know that there's not enough food. And maybe they know that we have something to do with it."
This quote is about the Southern Resident (SRKW) orca mother who has been carrying her dead calf for more than seven days now. Balcomb’s words are his entry into the debate regarding the precise meaning of this behavior, often characterized as mourning, common in many whales and dolphins who lose their young.
Answers to all the questions you've ever had about Free Willy / Keiko, the orca who was rescued from captivity and successfully rehabilitated into the wild.