Keiko (orca)

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Keiko
KeikoOrcaFreeWillyDec98.jpg
Keiko on December 1, 1998, at the Oregon Coast Aquarium
Species Orcinus orca
Sex Male
Born September 24, 1976
Near Iceland
Died December 12, 2003 (aged 27)
Arasvikfjord, Norway
Notable role Willy in Free Willy
Years active 1987 - 2003
Weight 6 tons (12,300 lb; 5440 kg)[citation needed]
Cause of death Pneumonia
www.keiko.com

Keiko (earlier Sigi and Kago), c. 1976 – December 12, 2003, was a male orca who portrayed Willy in the 1993 film Free Willy. This orca was eventually freed in Iceland, in July 2002, but did not fully adapt to the wild and died in December 2003 in Norway.

History[edit]

Keiko, whose name means "lucky one" or "blessed child" in the Japanese language,[1][2][3] was captured near Reyðarfjörður, Iceland in 1979 and sold to the Icelandic aquarium in Hafnarfjörður. (At the time, he was named Sigi with the name Kago and then Keiko given later.)[1][4] In 1982, the orca was sold to Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. At this new facility, the whale first started performing for the public and developed skin lesions indicative of poor health and was also bullied by older orcas.[5][6] Keiko was then sold to Reino Aventura (now named Six Flags Mexico), an amusement park in Mexico City, in 1985 (where he was renamed Keiko) and flown to that country on an off-duty mail cargo plane from the Northwest Territories.[7] At the time, the orca was only 10 feet long and was housed at the Mexican facility in a tank intended for dolphins.[8]

He was found by movie scouts at that run-down park and became the star of Free Willy in 1993. The publicity from his role in the popular film led to an effort by Warner Bros. Studio to find him a better home. (That was essential because the pool for the now 21-foot-long orca was only 22 feet deep, 65 feet wide and 114 feet long and the water temperature was often excessive.)[9] Some of the content was filmed at Reino Aventura and the rest in Mexico City.[6][10] Donations from Warner Brothers and Craig McCaw led to the establishment of the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation in February 1995. With donations from the foundation and millions of school children, the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon was given over $7 million to construct facilities to return him to health with the hope of eventually returning him to the wild. Reino Aventure donated Keiko to the Foundation.[11] UPS provided ground transportation to the nearby Newport Municipal Airport in a specialized container. Before he left the amusement park in Mexico, Keiko performed for the public for the last time. Weighing about 7,700 pounds (3493 kg),[7] he was transported by air in a C-130 Hercules donated by UPS; during the flight, the orca was in a 30 foot long transfer tank filled with sea water and cooled occasionally with ice cubes.[12][13]

On arrival in Oregon in 1996, Keiko was housed in a massive, new 2 million-gallon concrete enclosure containing seawater, his first experience with this medium.[5][7] His weight had increased significantly by June 1997, to 9,620 pounds (4364 kg).[14]

The plan to return him to the wild was a topic of much controversy. Some felt his years of captivity made such a return impossible. Researchers in a scientific study later said attempts to return him to the wild were unsuccessful, but that monitoring him with radio and satellite tags was part of "a contingency plan for return to human care," which secured "the long-term well-being of the animal."[15] Others considered his release misguided.[16][17] The Norwegian pro-whaling politician Steinar Bastesen made international news for his statement that Keiko should instead be killed and the meat sent to Africa as foreign aid.[18]

Loading Keiko onto a C-17 transport on September 9, 1998, in Newport, Oregon for transport to the Westman Islands in Iceland

Nevertheless, the process of preparing Keiko for the wild began on September 9, 1998, when he was flown to Klettsvík, a bay on the island of Heimaey in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. Upon landing at Vestmannaeyjar Airport, the C-17 Globemaster aircraft suffered a landing gear failure causing over $1 million in damage, though Keiko was unharmed.[19][20]

His day-to-day care became the responsibility of the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation with management assistance from the Ocean Futures Society. He was initially housed in a pen in the Klettsvik Bay where he underwent training designed to prepare him for his eventual release, including supervised swims in the open ocean.

Ocean Futures left the Keiko project in late 2001. The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation and The Humane Society of the United States re-established management of the project at that time until Keiko's death in 2003. Keiko was fully free by the summer of 2002 and departed Icelandic waters in early August following some killer whales but not integrated with the pod. (His journey was tracked via the signal from a VHF tag attached to the dorsal fin.)[21] About a month later, he arrived in Norway's Skålvik Fjord, apparently seeking contact with human beings and allowing children to ride on his back.[22] His caretakers relocated to Norway and continued to conduct boat-follows with Keiko for the next 15 months.[15] On the basis of girth measurements and blood tests, it was assumed that Keiko had fed during his 900-mile (1500 km) journey to Norway from Iceland.[23] Keiko occasionally approached groups of wild killer whales, but remained on the periphery, at distances of 100–300 meters, with his head pointing toward the closest Orca.[24]

Death[edit]

Keiko died in Taknes Bay, Norway while swimming in the fjords on December 12, 2003, at about 27 years of age. Pneumonia was determined as his probable cause of death.[25][26][27]

Evaluation of the re-introduction process[edit]

Most sources conclude that the project to free Keiko was a failure because this whale failed to adapt to life in the wild.[28] In Norway, Keiko had little contact with other orcas and was not fishing; for months before his death, the whale was being fed daily.[29][30][31] A report in The Guardian describes the freed orca's life in Taknes Bay as follows: "... until his death Keiko was, rather than frolicking freely in his fjord, being taken for 'walks' by caretakers in a small boat at least three times a week. ... It took more than 60 failed attempts to reunite Keiko with free orcas before he followed a group where, spotting a fishing vessel off the Norwegian coast, he followed it into the fjords that would prove his final resting place."[32]

Another reliable source states, "He was seen diving among the wild orcas only once, on 30 July 2002. And after physical contact at the surface, Keiko swam away, seeking out human company on the tracking boat".[33] A very thorough scientific study published in the journal Marine Mammal Science (July 2009) confirms that he was seen on the periphery of some wild groups but was never seen to be socially integrated with such whales.[21] In summary, "He never integrated into a wild pod ... and could not break his need for human contact."[34] His return to humans for food and for company confirms the failure of the project according to the same scientific study.[21]

Reasons cited for Keiko's failure to adapt include his early age at capture, the long history of captivity, prolonged lack of contact with conspecifics, and strong bonds with humans.[35]

In spite of those comments, David Phillips, executive director of the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation praised the release project: "We took the hardest candidate and took him from near death in Mexico to swimming with wild whales in Norway".[32] "Keiko had five years with the sights and sounds of natural seawater. I think it was a great success in terms of Keiko, his well-being, and the whole world that wanted to do the right thing."[36] Others also claim that the release was a success. In fact, The Huffington Post called it a "phenomenal success ... giving him years of health and freedom".[37][38]

The total cost of freeing Keiko was about US$20 million. The lead author of the study published by Marine Mammal Science said this in an interview: "You can't just let these animals out into the wild. You have to take the responsibility, and that might cost a lot of money. The fortune spent on Keiko might have been better invested in conservation programs to protect whales and their habitat ... But that's not as appealing as the adventures of a single whale".[39] An alternative to freeing orcas after long-term captivity, is the use of a "sanctuary" or "oceanic enclosure" (sea pen), according to Lori Marino, Ph.D. of the Whale Sanctuary Project.[40][41] "They can’t be released, but their quality of life can be improved by orders of magnitude", Marino said in a 2016 interview where she agreed that the cost would be high ($15 to $20 million). "It’s a solemn responsibility, and it’s the best we can do for animals that are in captivity.”[36]

Filmography[edit]

In 2010 the film Keiko: The Untold Story was released. In 2013 a New York Times video, The Whale Who Would Not Be Freed, included interviews about Keiko's only partly successful return to the ocean.[42]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Kirby, David (17 July 2012). "Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity". St. Martin's Press – via Google Books. 
  2. ^ "Keiko the Whale (1976 - 2003) - Find A Grave Memorial". www.findagrave.com. 
  3. ^ "Keiko the 'Free Willy' Whale Dies". BBC NEWS. 13 December 2003. 
  4. ^ Neiwert, David (16 June 2015). "Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us". The Overlook Press – via Google Books. 
  5. ^ a b "Where's Willy?". The New Yorker. 
  6. ^ a b Townsend, Mark (7 September 2002). "Keiko's love of children puts his life in danger" – via The Guardian. 
  7. ^ a b c Garrett, Howard. "Welcome to Orca Network". Welcome to Orca Network. 
  8. ^ Kurth, Linda Moore (18 August 2017). "Keiko's Story: A Killer Whale Goes Home". Millbrook Press – via Google Books. 
  9. ^ Schrader, Esther; Schrader, Esther (23 August 1993). "ILL 'WILLY' PRESENTS WHALE OF A PROBLEM" – via washingtonpost.com. 
  10. ^ CNN, By Vivian Kuo. "Orca trainer saw best of Keiko, worst of Tilikum". CNN. 
  11. ^ Kurth, Linda Moore (18 August 2017). "Keiko's Story: A Killer Whale Goes Home". Millbrook Press – via Google Books. 
  12. ^ Booth, William; Booth, William (10 September 1998). "'FREE WILLY': THE TRUE SEQUEL" – via washingtonpost.com. 
  13. ^ "Willy Is Freed! Well, Moved, Anyway". The New York Times. 8 January 1996. 
  14. ^ Kurth, Linda Moore (18 August 2017). "Keiko's Story: A Killer Whale Goes Home". Millbrook Press – via Google Books. 
  15. ^ a b M. Simon; M. B. Hanson; L. Murrey; J. Tougaard; F. Ugarte (2009). "An attempt to release Keiko the killer whale". Marine Mammal Science. 25 (3): 693–705. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2009.00287.x. 
  16. ^ Catherine Brahic (28 April 2009). "Why freeing Willy was the wrong thing to do". New Scientist. Keiko was indeed a poor candidate for release, due to the early age of his capture, long history of captivity, prolonged lack of contact with conspecifics, and strong bonds with humans. 
  17. ^ Simon, M. (July 2009). "From Captivity to the Wild and Back: An Attempt to Release Keiko the Killer Whale". Marine Mammal Science. 25 (3): 703. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2009.00287.x. 
  18. ^ McCarthy, Michael (15 September 1998). "`Turn Keiko into meatballs'". The Independent. 
  19. ^ "C-17A S/N 96-0006". 
  20. ^ "C-17 Accident During Whale Lift Due To Design Flaw". Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. 
  21. ^ a b c Simon, M. "From captivity to the wild and back: An attempt to release Keiko the killer whale". Marine Mammal Science. 25 (3): 693–705. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2009.00287.x. 
  22. ^ "Keiko not so 'Wild' in Norway". Komonews.com. 2 September 2002 [updated 31 August 2006]. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  23. ^ M. Simon; M. B. Hanson; L. Murrey; J. Tougaard; F. Ugarte (2009). "An attempt to release Keiko the killer whale". Marine Mammal Science. 25 (3): 693–705. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2009.00287.x. 
  24. ^ Simon, M. (July 2009). "From Captivity to the Wild and Back: An Attempt to Release Keiko the Killer Whale". Marine Mammal Science. 25 (3): 696. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2009.00287.x. 
  25. ^ "Keiko deserves a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame". keikotheuntoldstory.com. 2013-03-16. 
  26. ^ "Keiko the killer whale dies". msnbc.com. 2003-12-13. Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  27. ^ "Keiko the killer whale dies". 13 December 2003. 
  28. ^ Society, National Geographic (14 November 2014). "Death of Keiko". 
  29. ^ "'Free Willy' Whale Dies". 
  30. ^ Lusher, By Adam. "Whale star of 'Free Willy' dies after return to wild". 
  31. ^ Brahic, Catherine (April 28, 2009). "Why freeing Willy was the wrong thing to do". 46 DAILY NEWS. New Scientist. Retrieved 2016-06-10. 
  32. ^ a b Townsend, Mark (13 December 2003). "Free at last? New row as Keiko dies" – via The Guardian. 
  33. ^ "Why freeing Willy was the wrong thing to do". 
  34. ^ "BBC - Earth News - Killer whales: What to do with captive orcas?". news.bbc.co.uk. 
  35. ^ http://www.orcanetwork.org/nathist/simon2009keiko.pdf
  36. ^ a b "Watch What Happens When You Free a Killer Whale". 
  37. ^ Whiting, Candace Calloway (17 September 2013). "Keiko (Free Willy): 20 Years Later, History Proves His Release to Have Been the Right Decision". 
  38. ^ "Hope for Lolita in Keiko's successful return to the wild - HeraldNet.com". 25 March 2016. 
  39. ^ "Travel & Outdoors - The $20M lessons of "freeing" Keiko the whale - Seattle Times Newspaper". o.seattletimes.nwsource.com. 
  40. ^ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/release/renowned-marine-conservationist-dr-carl-safina-joins-board-of-whale-sanctuary-project/
  41. ^ "The Whale Sanctuary Project: Saying No Thanks to Tanks". Psychology Today. 
  42. ^ Winerip, Michael (16 September 2013). "Retro Report: The Whale Who Would Not Be Freed" (video, 11:43). New York Times. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 

External links[edit]