Dear Friends of Lolita,
Since the Lolita campaign was launched in March, 1995, Keiko's progress toward freedom with his natural family in the No. Atlantic has informed the public about Lolita's prospects to return to her native waters and family in the Pacific Northwest. A report published in the current Earth Island Journal (reprinted below) shows that Keiko is poised for freedom. Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute have confirmed that all through his life in captivity Keiko has been calling out in the unique dialect of the wild orcas he was forcibly removed from in 1979. His ability to communicate with his family is the key to their mutual recognition and acceptance. Lolita also still calls to her family in the native dialect she learned prior to capture.
The next demonstration for Lolita will take place in front of the Seaquarium from noon to 1 PM on February 20th.
PS: We just received word that a female orca, held in a marine park in Argentina since she was forced onto a beach and captured in 1985, died Friday, Jan 4. There are now 50 orcas in captivity worldwide, 22 of them captive born.
PPS: On January 29, at least 25 members of Lolita's family, the L25 subpod, were seen for the first time off the coast of California, near Monterey. Their visits to California may or may not be unusual. It's possible that the Dec. 14 sighting of approx. 60 orcas in the Santa Barbara Channel (reported on NBC news) may have included Lolita's family.
The eloquent preamble to the EIJ article is by Carole Koppel, a dedicated and effective advocate for Keiko, Lolita and all the other captives.
No creature sharing our beautiful planet during our lifetime brought and still brings tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat more than Keiko. For not only is he majestic and beautiful of body; he is beautiful of spirit and heart. When I try to tell the story of Keiko's rescue of a child who fell into his tank unnoticed, I break down. When I remember the time his sweet face touched my fingertips through a Plexiglas barrier, I tear up.
Loving Keiko as one, then because of him loving all orcas, brought me the gift of new friends. Through them, an awareness of marine preservation so these magnificent animals can survive and remain a part of our earth's splendor.
Keiko's recovery from a captive situation that was pathetically inadequate and his subsequent adaptation to the wild, is a signpost most commercial theme parks holding wild orcas captive in small tanks would like to ignore.
But their logic is flawed and their days are numbered. Keiko is setting a precedent that will not be ignored and as he works his way towards true freedom, he is the first, but not the last formerly captive orca to live free.
Earth Island Journal
Spring 2000 Vol 15, No 1
Keiko, the orca star of Free Willy fame, continues his journey toward freedom. September 10, 1999 marked the first anniversary of Keiko's arrival in the cold waters of Iceland's Westman Islands. With each passing day, Keiko is behaving more like a wild orca. He has adapted well to the local tides, winds, storms, and the environment. Keiko is eating nearly half of his daily feed as live fish. The other half is thrown into the water. (To discourage Keiko from associating humans with food, he is no longer fed by hand.) Keiko is chasing birds that land in his bay pen and spending much of his time underwater.
Blood tests show that Keiko is free of pathogens. Most orcas develop higher levels of pathogens in captivity. Iceland's clear, cold waters seem to have been the best medicine for all of Keiko's medical problems.
Wild orcas have been seen within one-to-two miles of Keiko's bay pen. Last June, a small pod of orcas visited Keiko near the sea-pen enclosure. The wild orcas seemed to be communicating with Keiko. This is an important development since Keiko eventually must be able to rejoin a wild pod to survive as a free whale.
Genetic and photo identification studies of the local wild orca populations are giving researchers new information about population numbers, behaviors and health. This research may even help identify surviving members of Keiko's long-lost family.
Last December, Keiko was released into a larger ocean pen covering one million square feet. [Note: as of Feb 8 Keiko had not yet been let out of the bay pen into the cove. That should take place any day now.] The installation of a fence across the mouth of the bay has given Keiko an opportunity to explore the bottom of the bay and chase schools of herring. Keiko now is experiencing wild space on a scale he has not known since he was violently taken from his mother's side at the age of two.
There are times when Keiko actually disappears from the view of his human caretakers. This is a step needed before Keiko can be released to the open ocean. When that happens, Keiko will become the first captive orca to be rehabilitated and reintroduced into native waters.
While this is important as a scientific venture, it is also important as a moral gesture. After visiting so much devastation on the world's marine mammals, it is our moral obligation to give back to the wild this magnificent and intelligent mammal.
For updates and more information, visit the IMMP website