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Free Lolita Update 70

Lolita Update #70
More on Keiko
December 15, 2003

Dear Friends of Lolita,

Below is Orca Network's News Release on Keiko; please visit our website News page for some of the many news articles about Keiko's life and times here

December 13, 2003
Howard Garrett, Susan Berta
ORCA NETWORK (360) 678-3451


Keiko's story could have easily ended in a small, substandard tank in Mexico City in 1993 - one more premature death of a captive whale, taken from his family to entertain people and make money for his owners.

But when Keiko starred in the movie "Free Willy", his life took a turn that launched him on a ten year adventure to get him back home. Because of the efforts of people involved in the film, the voices and pennies of thousands of school children, millions of dollars from an interested billionaire, support from animal advocates around the world, and marine park owners that believed Keiko deserved a better life, Keiko was given a second chance at life - at real life, the life of a wild orca swimming free in the ocean.

Keiko may not have been the best orca candidate for release - he was captured at a very young age, was ill from living in poor conditions, and little is known about the Atlantic population of orcas from which he was captured. Yet Keiko excelled in his journey to freedom, every step of the way.

Upon his move to a larger tank in Oregon, Keiko regained his health and his skin condition cleared up. He gained weight and muscle strength, he caught live fish with ease when first offered them, and was soon well prepared for his trip back home to Iceland. When he was lowered into his net pen in Iceland, Keiko immediately took to being back in the ocean after spending most of his life in a tank. Without any hesitation, he swam out of his sling, slapped his flukes and swam the perimeter of his pen, dove for long periods, feeling and hearing his ocean home for the first time since his capture as a young calf.

Keiko began taking long "walks" with support boats, and vocalized and swam with other whales. In August 2002, Keiko became much more independent, venturing out away from the support boat for up to 10 days at a time. Then Keiko took off for six weeks, being tracked only by satellite, until he showed up 1000 miles away in Norway, fit and well fed, but alone.

Keiko demonstrated he was not afraid of the ocean, that he was interested in wild whales, and that he could survive, travel and feed himself without assistance for long periods of time. The only obstacle Keiko could not overcome was that of finding his family, and unfortunately, the lack of human knowledge about Atlantic orcas hampered efforts for his successful reintegration into his wild orca community. Little is known about Atlantic orcas, it is not even known whether the Icelandic and Norwegian populations are one large group or several different communities. Though recordings were made of the wild orcas, and calls similar to Keiko's calls were found, it isn't known if he ever came close to any of his relatives or to orcas that spoke the same language and dialect.

In the Pacific Northwest, orca communities have been closely studied for three decades, and much is known about each community, pod, and individual orca, thanks to research conducted by the Center For Whale Research and others who have come to know the Northwest orcas so well.

Keiko has paved the way for other captive orcas who should be given their chance at freedom, and two of the best candidates are northwest orcas whose families are well known. Corky, from the Northern Resident Community, and Lolita, from the Southern Resident Community, are both the oldest and longest-held captive orcas in the world. We know their families well, and they deserve to be given the opportunity Keiko was given - to retire from their 34 years in the entertainment business, to swim wild and free in the ocean, and to join their families.

We are especially concerned with Lolita's situation at this time. She remains isolated in the smallest tank in the country, in a rundown, unsafe marine park, with no other whales for companionship. The Miami Seaquarium was recently cited for over a hundred safety violations, and is undergoing numerous repairs. Lolita's stadium and show has been closed since the beginning of November, while construction work goes on around her pool. She has no where else to go, and what kind of stress do these conditions impose on her?

There is no better time than now to bring Lolita back home to her family. The Seaquarium doesn't have the money to build her a bigger tank, as they have promised for 25 years, and she is living on borrowed time for a captive orca. If returned to the wild, she could at the very least live a happier, healthier life in a sea pen; and at best, be rejoined with her family to swim alongside them and perhaps even have a calf.

We are happy Keiko was given the opportunity to once again experience life in the wild, to be in his ocean home again, to swim free and spend his last years unconfined by concrete walls. Our hearts are heavy with the loss of this much-loved orca, but we hope we can learn from Keiko's journey, and that other orcas will be given a chance to follow in his fluke-prints.

For more information on Lolita's story and other captive whales, visit Orca Network's website. To receive Free Lolita Email Updates, contact E-Mail to subscribe.

Much is going on to help bring Lolita home and to inform and advocate for her and her family Please consider a tax-deductible contribution to help Orca Network continue this work by clicking HERE. Thank you!

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