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Refuting SeaWorld and Mark Simmon's False Claims About Keiko and Sea Pen Sanctuaries

| David Phillips, President, Free Willy/Keiko Foundation
Topics: Dolphin and Whale Trade, Dolphins, Keiko, Orcas, SeaWorld

Recently, CEO Joel Manby of SeaWorld and captive industry spokesperson Mark Simmons have denounced the possibility of transferring captive orcas to sea pen sanctuaries and have cited the Keiko Project as an example of the “failure” of sea pens as alternatives to little concrete tanks for captive orcas.

Saving Keiko, orca whale star of the hit movie “Free Willy”, was widely recognized as a great success, contrary to claims by SeaWorld and Simmons, both of whom have an obvious bias in promoting keeping orcas in captivity for company profits.

Mark Simmons helped establish Ocean Embassy, a global operation aimed at catching wild dolphins and selling them to aquariums all over the world.  It was Simmons and Ocean World, for example, that set up a capture operation in the impoverished Solomon Islands, taking advantage of local drive fisheries that slaughtered dolphins by the hundreds to export some to China, Singapore, and other far-flung destinations.  Many of these dolphins are already dead.  It is no surprise that he now condemns the Keiko effort, as it is a direct threat to his own business of putting wild dolphins into captivity for the rest of their shortened lives.

The Free Willy/Keiko Foundation brought Keiko back to health from stress-related illnesses, re-taught him to catch live fish, and returned him to his home waters in Iceland.  He lived five more years in the natural ocean.  His enclosed sea pens in a protected bay were safe, clean, and far better for his wellbeing than suffering in small captive tanks.  

SeaWorld’s disparagement of Keiko and sea sanctuaries is simply part of their pro-captivity propaganda and lacks credibility.  Sea pens and netted bays for dolphins are widely used.  The US Naval Center in San Diego, located near SeaWorld, has used such enclosures for decades for captive dolphins.  

While Keiko was in seaside sanctuaries, 17 orca whales died in captive concrete tanks, a fact conveniently ignored by SeaWorld and Simmons.  When Keiko died, he was the second longest-lived male orca ever held in captivity, living far longer than the average lifespan of male orcas held at SeaWorld.

Readers deserve better than the reckless charges and false information put out by Simmons and SeaWorld.

For more information on Keiko, go to our Keiko Whale Rescue website

You can also download or get a DVD copy of the documentary Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy. Visually and through firsthand accounts of those directly in charge of Keiko’s care, Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy documents how Keiko:

• thrived in his post-captivity period for more than five years,

• mixed it up with wild orcas, manifesting physical signs of mating behavior

• left his trainers, followed a wild orca pod, and traveled on his own from Iceland to Norway

• gained over 3000 lbs. during his rehabilitation

• and became the second longest lived male captive orca at the time of his death and the first captive orca to ever utilize a sea pen for his successful rescue rehab and release effort.


Watch the movie on: 


Google Play 




Film website


Keiko breeching in his seapen in Iceland. Free Willy Keiko Foundation.