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.
Mark J. Palmer, February 2018
We recently spoke (as did several other organizations) with Business Insider, a prominent online business journal, about the recent news that a captive orca at Marineland, Antibes, France, has been taught to mimic human speech.
Needless to say, we pointed out that teaching a captive orca to mimic human speech was a distraction from the fact that the poor animal was expected to spend the rest of her shortened life in a small concrete pool doing circus tricks to entertain the public.
Springer is British Columbia’s arguably most beloved Northern Resident orca. This female killer whale achieved local fame sixteen years ago when she became the first member of her species to be released into the wild and back into her pod after spending time in human captivity.
Locals first discovered Springer in January 2001, when reports circulated of a young orca in poor condition floating listlessly in the waters of Puget Sound. The orphaned whale quickly became talk of the town, with the Seattle Times even describing her as a whale with "bad skin, worms in her stool and bad breath."