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An Extra:Keiko

An Extra:Keiko

A Page For Keiko
the whale that captured the world's imagination

Keiko, from the infamous movie 'Free Willy,' was a whale that taught the world how to love.  All animals, big and small, have a place in my heart.  And, though Keiko died last December 12, he still has a place too.  My son is a big fan of his, and I remain as well to this day.
Below you will find the dates of different events of
                                             Keiko's astounding life.
                                             It was a life that spanned five countries.  I hope I have not left anything 
                                             out!  For more information, go to:
                                             1977 or 1978:  Keiko was born in the Atlantic Ocean near Iceland.
                                             1979:  Keiko was captured by a fishing boat, and was separated from his family,
                                             while being held in an Icelandic aquarium.
                                             1982:  Marineland, located in Ontario, Canada, bought Keiko, where he became a
                                             performing animal.
                                             1985:  Marineland sold Keiko to Reino Aventura, an amusement park in Mexico 
                                             City.  The price was $350,000.
                                             1992:  Warner Bros. began filming the movie 'Free Willy' on location in Mexico
                                             City.  The plot involves a young boy saving a whale, portrayed by Keiko.
                                             1993:  'Free Willy' became a surprise hit in the theaters, especially with
                                             millions of school children across the world.  This support, along with media
                                             coverage that detailed Keiko's unacceptable living conditions in Mexico City,
                                             prompted the movie studio, the park, and animal protection advocated to find
                                             Keiko a new home.  Dr. Lanny Cornell came on board as Keiko's lead veterinarian.
                                             1994:  Earth Island Institute, an environmental advocacy group for marine 
                                             wildlife, began the search for a location where Keiko can be brought back to 
                                             health and trained for a potential release to the wild.  The Free Willy
                                             Foundation was formed in November with a $4 million donation from Warner Bros.,
                                             and an anonymous donor.
                                             1995:  The Mexico City amusement park donated Keiko to the Free Willy/Keiko
                                             Foundation.  The Foundation announced Keiko was going to be moved to a new,
                                             $7.3 million rehabilitation facility at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.  Craig McCaw
                                             was revealed as the anonymous donor for $2 million, which helped start the
                                             Free Willy/Keiko Foundation.  The Humane Society of the United States also
                                             became a sponsor.
                                             1996:  The United Parcel Service sponsored the airlifting of Keiko to the 
                                             aquarium on January 7.  Weighing just 7,720 pounds, Keiko was placed in his new
                                             pool and experienced natural sea water for the first time in 14 years.  Keiko
                                             gained more than 1,000 pounds, and by the year's end his skin lesions began to
                                             heal.  Keiko was featured on the cover of 'Life' magazine and in a popular
                                             documentary, 'The Free Willy Story,' on the Discovery Channel.  More than 2
                                             million visitors came to see Keiko in Oregon.
                                             1997:  Keiko's staff began introducing him to live fish in an effort to teach
                                             him how to hunt for food.  His skin lesions all disappeared and he was
                                             determined to be in excellent health.  He caught and ate his first live fish
                                             in August.  By June, Keiko weighed 9,620 pounds.  The staff of the Free Willy/
                                             Keiko Foundation set a goal of releasing Keiko iinto a pen in the North
                                             Atlantic by 1998.  After an intensive search and negotiations with foreign
                                             governments the decision was made to reintroduce Keiko to the wild in Iceland.
                                             1998:  A medical panel determined that Keiko was healthy and exhibiting the
                                             normal behavior patterns of a killer whale.  Keiko was eating live steelhead 
                                             that weighed from three to 12 pounds each, comprising up to half of his daily
                                             intake of food.  On September 9, Keiko was lifted from his tank and transported
                                             by a US Airforce C-17 transport jet from Newport directly to Klettsvik Bay in
                                             Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.
                                             1999:  During his first full year back in his native Icelandic waters, Keiko,
                                             now under the day-to-day care of the Ocean Futures Society, continued training
                                             to prepare him for his potential reintroduction to the wild.  An essential
                                             component of his program was moving his attention from above to below the
                                             surface of the water.  In doing so, Keiko depended less on his human caretakers
                                             and developed greater interest in his natural environment.
                                             2000:  Keiko was fitted for a tracking device that would allow staff to take him
                                             out to the open ocean.  Keiko made amazing progress during his sea "walks," even
                                             beginning to interact with wild orcas in the vicinity of his sea pen.  His
                                             health and stamina improved as he came closer to returning to his wild ways.
                                             2001:  Early in this year, Keiko exhibited behaviors consistent with wild 
                                             whales-competing with other animals for food.  Keiko began initiating contact
                                             with wild orcas in the vicinity and spent several days away from his human
                                             companions.  The primary challenge ahead was for Keiko to begin maintaining 
                                             himself on wild fish and regularly associating with wild orcas.
                                             2002:  On his first day out of the netted bay pen in the summer of 2002, Keiko
                                             left the tracking boat and began spending considerable time in the company of
                                             whales.  He was monitored in and around groups of wild whales for the next
                                             three weeks.  He then began an epic journey covering nearly 1000 miles across
                                             the North Atlantic, by the Faeroe Islands, and to the coast of Norway.
                                             The first observations of Keiko in Norway documented that he was in excellent
                                             physical condition.  Keiko had been on his own for close to 60 days without
                                             food from humans.  His lead veterinarian, and a variety of other orca 
                                             scientists, came to the conclusion that Keiko had successfully fed himself in
                                             the wild, a major milestone in his journey to the wild.
                                             Keiko followed a fishing boat inside a Norwegian fjord in the Halsa Community.
                                             He was an instant hit there with people coming from throughout Europe.  
                                             Thousands of visitors came to see the friendly whale.  The Project staff worked
                                             closely with the Norwegian government to put in place regulations to keep
                                             people from swimming with, feeding, or getting too close to Keiko.
                                             Meanwhile, the Craig McCaw Foundation and Ocean Futures Society turned over the
                                             management of the project to the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Humane
                                             Society of the U.S.
                                             In December Keiko was walked to the Taknes bay.  Staff continued to work with
                                             and feed Keiko.  For the first time ever, Keiko was in an area where he can
                                             come and go as he chose.  The Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Humane
                                             Society of the US continued to care for Keiko while allowing his historic 
                                             journey to the wild to move ahead.
                                             December 12, 2003:  Rumored to be due to pneumonia that was in the waters,
                                             Keiko dies quickly.  Mourned by many, including children, he is buried on 
                                             land.  Debates start arising whether the whole journey was for
Here are three ways you can continue
                                             Keiko's legacy.  Let's keep his memory 
                                             THANK THE NORWEGIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S. FOR WELCOMING KEIKO
                                             The Norwegian local and federal officials took a very strong position in favor
                                             of allowing the Keiko project to continue.  They:
                                             -Made it clear that Keiko was welcome in Norway and was protected.
                                             -Implemented regulations to keep people from approaching Keiko too closely or
                                             feeding him.
                                             -Rejected the efforts of the Miami Seaquarium to capture Keiko in Norway.  The
                                             Honorable Knut Vollebaek, Norwegian ambassador to the U.S., stated:  "In
                                             principle we are skeptical to keep huge animals like whales in captivity.  In
                                             Norway there is no tradition for that.  Also, we regard it as problematic in
                                             an animal welfare perspective to send the whale on the long voyage from Norway
                                             to Florida.  At the moment the whale has a freedom that makes it possible for
                                             him to make choices."
                                             -Thousands of members of the Norwegian public had come to welcome and see
                                             Keiko, and are still celebrating him after his death.  The local community of
                                             Halsa will continue to work for Keiko's legacy and memory.
                                             So, send your thanks to:
                                             Honorable Mr. Knut Vollebaek
                                             Norwegian Ambassador
                                             Royal Norwegian Embassy
                                             Washington, DC 20008
                                             or, email to:
                                             JOIN KEIKO'S LEGACY TODAY!
                                             You can help Keiko's legacy today by making a secure, online donation.  Make a
                                             tax-deductible gift by selecting a certain level.  The Project needs your
                                             help to make sure that others like Keiko have the greatest chance for a future
                                             in the wild.  They will keep you updated on the latest issues.  Donations of
                                             $50 or above (US dollars only) will receive a beautiful 2004 Dolphin and Whale
                                             Calendar.  Go to 
                                             for more information.
                                             PURCHASE A KEIKO LEGACY KIT!
                                             You can help others like Keiko!  Only the help of concerned people like you made
                                             it happen.  From a small, hot tank in Mexico City that left Keiko in poor
                                             health, he was moved to a custom-built pool in Oregon where he was nursed back
                                             to health.  Then Keiko was returned to Iceland to learn the skills necessary
                                             to survive in the wild.  During the summer of 2002, he swam nearly 1000 miles
                                             to a fjord in Norway where he lived free until his death in December of 2003.
                                             And others like Keiko need our support again now.  As a supporter of Keiko's
                                             Legacy, you can help others like Keiko hopefully follow in his Flukeprints to
                                             freedom.  You can order either a Keiko's Legacy Kit or a Premium Orca Adoption
                                             Kit by going to:
                                             and using your credit card to fill an order.  They also have information where
                                             you can send a check, if you do not wish to order using a credit card.
                                             MOST IMPORTANTLY, STAY INFORMED!
                                             Do you want to stay informed with breaking news and alerts about Keiko's legacy
                                             and other orca issues?  Then sign up for FREE regular updates, delivered right
                                             to your e-mailbox!  Go to:
                                             and enter your email address.



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