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 17 captive orcas died 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.
David Kirby, February 2017
I will never forget the afternoon that Tilikum, the great and fearsome orca who died on January 6, killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando. Little did I know that it would mark the beginning of the end of killer whale captivity in this country.
I was working at home that day, Feb. 24, 2010, with CNN flickering in the background. I was stunned when I lifted my head. For the rest of the day, video footage occupied a corner of the screen, showing the massive killer whale floating listlessly next to the covered body of his trainer.
Mark J. Palmer, January 2017
SeaWorld announced that Tilikum, one of the oldest (but by no means old) male orcas in captivity has died.
Tilikum came to the public’s attention with the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, an experienced and charismatic staff person. The details of Dawn’s death have been glossed over by SeaWorld – according to a story in the BBC, they were told by SeaWorld just last year that "[Brancheau's death] was not an attack, this was a terrible accident".
Keiko's amazing odyssey from a cramped tank in Mexico to his home waters in Iceland.Watch
Photographs and information about Keiko, a booklet on the history and habitat of orcas, a Mystical Whale Pendant replica of the one worn by Jesse in "Free Willy 2," a full-color orca poster, a personalized orca adoption certificate, and a special photo of Keiko in Norway.Order Here
Keiko was given a chance that no other captive orca has ever had . . . the chance to go back to his original home waters. Visit the documentary website at www.keikotheuntoldstory.comWatch