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.
Paul Spong and Helena Symonds, November 2018
Make no mistake about it. Southern Resident orcas are facing a crisis. Yes, a crisis that could doom them to extinction within a couple of generations.
Extinction. It’s one of the ugliest words in our language. Most unfortunately, the word finds use so commonly as to be beyond comprehension in these desperate days for our precious planet.
Sharon Ryals Tamm, October 2018
David Phillips worked on the Free Willy Keiko Foundaiton effort, which saw the successful rehabilitation and release of the orca known as Keiko, and Free Willy.