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.
Eva Marrero, November 2017
In 1988, cetacean researchers in Florida and California carried out a project aimed at shedding light on the effects of short-term captivity on dolphins, as well as examine their reacclimation to the wild. While the International Marine Mammal Project does not agree ethically with capturing wild cetaceans for any reason, even research, the dolphins’ successful return to the wild speaks for itself.
Eva Marrero, October 2017
SeaWorld has long rejected the notion that whale captivity is animal abuse, relentlessly defending their profitable incarceration of orcas, dolphins and other small whales. In one TV advertisement, trainers confidently announce to the camera that their whales “thrive… with the highest standard of animal care in the world.” Yet they routinely deny that whales can be released from captivity. The often point to the Keiko project - the famous orca who was rehabilitated in a seaside sanctuary after his liberation from a facility in Mexico – as a failure.
However, the numbers clearly say otherwise.