Orca Network Forum on Keiko

Keiko in Skaalvik Fjord, Sept 3
Keiko in Skaalvik Fjord, Sept 3, 2003 (Reuters)
Last updated December 27, 2003:
Keiko's life has ended

NY Times op-ed describing Keiko's life and death is inadequate

In July and August, 2002, Keiko traveled over 1,000 miles across the Atlantic, traveling 40-50 miles a day for 5 weeks, diving regularly up to 70 meters, feeding himself all the way, after 23 years of confinement. That's a fantastic accomplishment and a scientific breakthrough, and it shows what the other captive orcas are capable of.

Keiko's official website

See Keiko's comprehensive, unabridged life story.

Orca Network August 13 News Release

More news clips on Keiko's travels from Keiko.com.

Note: Posting of messages to the Keiko forum does not imply our endorsement of the opinions or sentiments contained in them, but is only meant to provide a forum in which a variety of viewpoints can be heard.

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Keiko Forum

Keiko is oldest but not so old
May 28, 2003 (Aftenposten) Keiko the celebrity killer whale is the longest-living [male] orca in captivity . Even though the star of the film "Free Willy" has been back in the wild for a while, he remains attached to the care of his team of experts. According to newspaper VG, the official record for a male killer whale in captivity, registered in the USA's Sea World, is an age of 22 years. Keiko is now 26, which is not so much compared to his expected lifespan in the wild, which can range from 30-50 years. Keiko's personal trainer, Thorbjoerg Valdis Kristjansdottir, told the newspaper that the future was uncertain for Keiko, but living free was certainly good for him. "It is hard to say how many years Keiko has left - it could be one, five, ten or fifteen. But he is in great shape now. He is simply a happy whale. The main reason is that his life has improved now that he lives in the sea," Kristjandottir said. Keiko is currently spending his time being exercised with his trainers or leaping and swimming in Taknes Bay.

Keiko Still Popular
April 25, 2003 (KVAL-TV) Scientists say warmer ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic might have caused herring and orca populations to stay 40 to 50 miles offshore this season, rather than venturing closer to the coast.
Last summer, the 26-year-old killer whale swam nearly 900 miles to Norway from Iceland, where he had been kept in a netted bay since 1998.
Keiko's caretakers and Phillips, whose foundation is based in San Francisco, are working with a Norwegian whale researcher to pinpoint coastal regions where some tagged orcas have congregated in past summers. They hope to find likely spots, then lead Keiko there this summer, giving him opportunities to interact with his own kind.

Keiko gets hard-knock lesson about ice
February 27, 2003 (Portland Oregonian) Keiko, the orca star of "Free Willy" fame, knocked his noggin on an ice shelf in Norway last week and has a nasty scrape to show for it.
The beast banged his bean as he explored a fjord that had partly iced over, swimming beneath the frosty shelf, then pushing his head up through it.
Veterinarians determined the wound is not serious enough to treat, said David Phillips, founder of the Free Willy Keiko Foundation, which cares for the former film star.
The whale has been increasingly active in recent weeks, swimming farther than usual. Keepers say he might sense changes in his environment, particularly the herring migration expected to make its way soon to his part of the Norwegian coast, followed shortly thereafter by pods of wild orcas, which traditionally travel through the region about this time each year. But the migration is running later than usual, and no wild orcas have been spotted.

ABC's "20/20" Segment on Keiko: What You Didn't See
January 30, 2003 (The Humane Society of the United States)
By Naomi Rose

On Friday, January 24, the ABC newsmagazine 20/20 aired a segment on Keiko, the orca star of Free Willy, that was presented as a work of journalism. In other words, viewers had every reason to think the segment, produced by ABC's news division, would present the facts so that they could draw their own conclusions, with minimal editorial bias.

But what actually aired was almost entirely editorial bias. The segment began with host Barbara Walters stating that the Keiko Project story was one of "good intentions that might end up having bad consequences." It went downhill from there. By the end of the segment, Walters was back on camera, expressing a tepid hope for "any success that Keiko may have" (emphasis added).

Any success? Well, if 20/20 reporters, editors, and news executives were really interested in reporting the facts on Keiko's reintroduction campaign, they would have found plenty of evidence of the orca's success. In fact, The HSUS and the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation provided such evidence to the segment's producer and its reporter, Lynn Sherr, all of which was ignored.

Given the information we provided, The HSUS anticipated a balanced story. We expected the segment to document the extraordinary progress Keiko has made in the last three years in Iceland and Norway (documented through behavioral observations, satellite and radio tracking data, and veterinary evaluations), contrasted with the views of those who consider the project an emotional waste of money. In fact, two employees of The HSUS were interviewed for the story—President and CEO Paul Irwin, who could provide some insight on the costs versus benefits argument, and me, The HSUS's marine mammal scientist.

The HSUS also provided the 20/20 producer with data on captive orca mortality statistics, the consequences of wild captures, and technical information on orcas in the wild. Most important, the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation presented the producer and Sherr a statement from six respected orca experts who concluded that, after examining the satellite data and the veterinary records, Keiko had been successfully foraging during his 56-day journey across the North Atlantic this past summer.

In short, The HSUS was confident that while the Keiko Project's detractors would be allowed their say, the facts would speak for themselves. And the facts would speak loudly: That after a summer at sea, Keiko was healthy, alert, and making consistent progress toward, at a minimum, a semi-wild life.

But these facts never surfaced in 20/20's report. Keiko's nearly 60-days at sea were literally dismissed, as of no importance—Keiko's arrival in Norway after his prolonged period in the wild was deemed "an outright rejection of six years of rehabilitation," instead of an amazing step for an orca who had spent 20-plus years in captivity. What's more, all mention of The HSUS, including our interviews and our technical information, was omitted. The producer claimed time constraints, but in several instances, our omitted interviews or information rebutted detracting and misleading statements.

The most questionable journalistic misstep, however, was the segment's reliance on Dr. Leif Nøttestad, a Norwegian scientist whom Sherr introduced as "an expert on orcas." Nøttestad stated that, in his opinion, Keiko's fate in the wild would be starvation.

It turns out that 20/20's primary informational source on orcas is actually an expert on fish—Nøttestad is not a marine mammal biologist at all. The irony here is profound: Sherr and the producer ignored the actual orca experts' statement and my interview (my background includes studies of orca behavior), which concluded Keiko was far from starving on his own, while favoring a fish specialist.

Indeed, through strategic omissions and the careful editing of interview responses, the segment implied that the managers of the Keiko Project (represented in the segment only by the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation) had never even consulted orca experts when designing their release efforts. Sherr pointedly questioned Dave Phillips, the chair of the Free Willy/Keiko board of directors and the only "pro-release" interviewee on the segment, if he had "ever ask[ed] an expert...ever [said] to anyone, can this be done?"

Although Phillips mentioned Keiko's veterinarian (considered one of the best orca veterinarians in the world), the segment omitted any references to the experts' statement or to the scientists, including those affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who have been consulted from the beginning and who have participated in the Project's scientific efforts. Indeed, Keiko's tracking devices were designed by one of the U.S. government's leading technical experts on marine mammal tracking.

By any measure, Keiko's journey from Iceland to Norway this past summer was an astonishing feat. He had never been independent (away from human caretakers) for this length of time before, and he managed to feed himself and find his way, on his own, to a coast frequented by other orcas. Although he also met people on this coast and sought their attention and company, this is hardly surprising for an animal who has had a forced association with people for most of his life.

This same animal has also provided us with a wealth of data on his behavior, movements, and diving patterns. What's more, population data have been collected on the Icelandic orcas over the past three summers during his interactions with them. All of this information will be analyzed and presented in scientific publications.

While we expected detractors to say the Keiko Project has been an effort based on emotion, not science, and has been a waste of $20 million, we also expected the 20/20 segment to present the facts that rebut these arguments. They were certainly in possession of those facts. We expected the segment to outline the science that has been conducted and to clarify that the money, spent over ten years and partially used to build two state-of-the-art facilities, has certainly been no more (and probably far less) than the amount spent to maintain captive orcas at U.S. marine parks over the same time period.

But in the end, 20/20 ignored these facts and delivered one hugely misleading message—that the Keiko Project, because Keiko is not yet completely independent of human care, has been a failure. No other interpretation of the events was considered.

This is a classic case of biased journalism, an essentially one-sided argument masquerading as objective reporting. Keiko and the Keiko Project deserve better. The Keiko Project has been anything but a failure—Keiko's progress has, in fact, been astounding, given his grim beginnings in a tiny tank in Mexico City. The Project's valuable and unprecedented efforts could very well benefit other orcas held captive in marine parks around the world, and that's the information the public needs to know.

Dr. Naomi Rose is the marine mammal scientist for The HSUS. She specialized in orca behavior for her dissertation and has 18 years experience in the study of marine mammal biology.

Wild orcas could soon visit Keiko
January 22, 2003 (Newport News Times) Pods of killer whales should soon be arriving near the Norwegian fjord where Keiko has been spending the winter. The famous whale will once again be introduced to the wild orcas to see whether he will chose to leave his human companions and return to the wild. This photo of Keiko was taken in Norway last October.
Keiko's caretakers plan to resume their efforts soon to introduce him to these pods of whales to give him the opportunity of choosing to return to the wild. But that choice is Keiko's, said Mark Berman, assistant director of the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation. "It's up to Keiko."

Other orcas expected to visit Keiko
January 18, 2003 (Portland Oregonian) Caretakers -- the San Francisco-based Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Humane Society of the United States, based in Washington, D.C. -- hope to use his success as a platform from which to push for the release of orcas remaining in captivity.
"This is going to be interesting," Phillips said.
"He's going to make his choices. He might go back to Iceland. He could go to the Faeroes (Faroe Islands). He could go to Tysfjord (northern Norway). Our protocol is to give him room."
And, for the moment, food. Keepers hand Keiko about 125 pounds of silvery herring each day. That will change when Keiko follows their boat away from his feeding station in Taknes Bay to open ocean, where herring swim and wild whales forage. There, they'll let him fend for himself, hoping the technique encourages Keiko to act more like a wild animal.

Norwegian Christmas for Keiko the Whale
December 24, 2002 (Norway Post) It will be a fairly lonely Christmas for world famous Keiko the Whale this year, in his new home at Taknes Bay, where spectators are kept at a greater distance.
However, the Christmas dinner is secured, although the menu is the same as every other day: Buckets of fresh herring, and as usual, served by biologist Thorbjörg Kristjansdottir.
The Keiko team is making yet another attempt at making Keiko less attached to humans, hoping that this spring, when other killer whales migrate by Taknes Bay, Keiko will join them.
Keiko is therefore fed at more irregular times, and the amount of food is also a bit different from time to time.
When migration time comes, meals will be even more infrequent, and Keiko will be led out to more open waters.
The team reports that Keiko is in very good shape, and stronger than when he arrived in Norway.

Keiko enjoys festive freedom
December 23, 2002 (BBC) Keiko the celebrity killer whale - star of the Free Willy films - is spending his first Christmas in the wild for 24 years in a Norwegian bay.
The whale, which has been the subject of an expensive effort to return him to the wild, will celebrate Christmas with a feast of his favourite food - herring.
Keiko was moved to the fishing bay in western Norway in November after creating a frenzy among local residents and media when he turned up in a nearby fjord.
"We feel very welcome," Thorbjoerg Valdis Kristjansdottir, a member of the team that constantly follows and feeds the whale, told Norwegian news agency NTB.
Keiko was captured aged one or two in 1979, and was then kept in marine parks in Iceland, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
The whale was released back into the wild in his native Iceland in July - but swam to Norway, apparently in search of human contact, only six weeks after being freed.
He became an instant star in the Skaalvik fjord, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of the capital, Oslo, with tourists and locals flocking to see him.
But trainers told visitors to stay away, fearing that too much human contact could harm his chances to adapting back to life in the wild.
He was secretly moved to the more isolated Taknes Bay, but still needs a team to follow his every move and feed him the 50 kg (110 pounds) of fish he requires every day.

December 13
[Nick Braden, HSUS]
In mid November, Paul Irwin traveled out to Norway conduct an interview with ABC’s 20/20 who had requested to film Keiko’s move to the Taknes site in Norway. The move was successful and Keiko is doing well. The Taknes site was chosen because it provides:
  • good access to wild orca whales (starting in Jan);
  • protection from winter ice and severe weather conditions;
  • separation from potential conflicts with vessels, salmon pens, and members of the public;
  • an anchorage site for our vessel and a house where our staff can reside;
  • strong support from local community officials, the public, and Animal Welfare Authorities.
The Halsa community has exhibited a high level of community support and we are pleased with this location. This will be of great help as we move forward.
It has also been quite heartening to have the solid support of the Norwegian government. Norwegian Fisheries Director Peter Gullestad has made it clear that the Free Willy Keiko Foundation/HSUS team will be allowed to direct operations to allow the reintroduction project to continue. He has made it clear that they will reject any and all attempts to capture Keiko for export out of Norway.
Our plan is to continue attempting to reintroduce Keiko to wild whales, and give him the option of what he wants to do next. In the location we have chosen wild orcas are present in January, February and March. Prior to that time we will continue to keep Keiko active through walks and workouts and will also give him some opportunities to feed on his own. He will be in a bay where he can come and go as he chooses, though we will have a dock, boat, food, and our staff on site. At the point that wild whales are in the vicinity, Keiko will be taken out and our release protocols will be followed. We will continue to monitor his location by VHF and satellite transmitter.
Colin, Toba, and Frank (part time staffer from the local community) continue to lead our field team.

Hope this helps,

Nick Braden
Director of Public Relations
The Humane Society of the United States
Phone: 301/258-3072
Nick Braden

Keiko's life in the wild
November 7, 2002 (Toronto Globe and Mail) Keiko, the killer whale of Free Willy movie fame, set off Thursday for his new winter home in a remote Norwegian bay that his trainers hope will attract more wildlife and fewer people.
His keepers had kept the move, about a 90-minute swim, secret until the last minute, hoping to avoid the publicity that has surrounded the orca since he swam to a Norwegian fjord from his release off the coast of Iceland after nearly 23 years in captivity.
The movie-star whale, believed to be about 25, swam alongside the blue boat leading him to his new home, waving his distinctly curved dorsal fin, responding to hand signals from a trainer and snapping up fish thrown to him.
Keiko the whale moves to new home November 7, 2002 (MSNBC)

Keiko to winter in secluded bay
November 6, 2002 (Seattle Times) More than two months after arriving in Norway's Skaalvik fjord, Keiko the killer whale is ready to be moved to another bay with fewer people and more wildlife.
For the winter, Keiko's handlers want to lead him to a more isolated bay called Taknes, where fishing grounds are rich and wild orcas are thought to be plentiful.
Baird and other supporters say Keiko, who was rescued from a Mexico City amusement park in 1996, could eventually join a pod of wild orcas.
"It is entirely up to him; we just want to give him the chance to meet them," said Baird. "He is free. He's not penned in or anything."

October 22
[Naomi Rose]

Dear Ms. Berglund:

In your article "Researchers Blast Keiko Project," the researchers you quote have apparently never observed Keiko, at least for any length of time. The conclusions they draw are therefore at best unsubstantiated by direct observation and at worst not based on any detailed knowledge about the whale or the project. For example, Eivind Roeskraft appears to be unaware that Keiko *has* learned to find his own food, as he arrived in Norway in excellent health, after 60 days without any supplemental feeding, having traveled 1400km while exhibiting a relatively steady pattern of deep "foraging-type" dives (as determined from the remote satellite data). According to Keiko's veterinarian, he lost no weight during this time, which, along with his activity levels, strongly indicates he was feeding himself during his sojourn at sea.

I compared orca social structure with that of other social carnivores such as wolves in my doctoral dissertation. There is no basis for concluding that other male orcas may kill Keiko as he tries to integrate into their pods. For one thing, Keiko *has* interacted with other orcas (another detail of which Roeskraft appears ignorant) - he spent two weeks in their company before ever leaving Iceland and not once was there any aggression observed. Also, orcas do not behave like wolves when it comes to aggression among group members. In wolf packs, males (and females) are known to attack and even kill one another under certain circumstances; however, orca aggression apparently never escalates to a lethal level and even direct attacks have been only rarely observed in the wild.

Having scientific credentials does not automatically give someone the authority to comment on a project such as Keiko's. Direct observation of the animal and the situation is the only proper basis for scientific comment. Drawing conclusions without facts is, for a layperson, merely speculation and opinion, but for a scientist, it is unprofessional and suggests political or other agendas.

Naomi Rose, Ph.D
Marine Mammal Scientist
Humane Society of the U.S.

October 23
[Howard Garrett]

Dear Ms. Berglund,
I enjoyed reading "Researchers blast Keiko project." It's always interesting to hear from respected scientists who just can't believe what they're seeing. Orcas have been compared to wolves for decades and both species have been misunderstood and killed out of ignorance. Neither species is as vicious or harmful as depicted by these so-called "experts."

This portrayal of Keiko as unable to find food or socialize with his kind and likely to be attacked by male orcas is just obsolete science. There is no record of lethal aggression between orcas in the wild. Most of the scientific community has progressed in accordance with new findings in the past few decades. Recent consensus has concluded that orcas live in highly structured and orderly communities.

Keiko seems to be a gentle soul, eager to please and socialize with orcas or humans, as opportunities appear for him. That is precisely why he is likely to fully merge with free orcas in the next few months after he has rebuilt his strength and stamina.

In the past year we've seen that two lone orca juveniles under two years of age have managed to find, catch and eat their fill, so it's quite likely that Keiko learned to hunt even before he was captured. He easily caught his own fish on the first try in April, 1997. There is no logic to the claim that "He hasn't learned how to find his own food." Keiko is just fine and is in good hands and I expect great things whenever he decides to go out and reintroduce himself to his natural community again.


Howard Garrett
Orca Network

October 23
[Carl Dortch]

As the Director of Lolita's Legion, an all children's network, I am compelled to write to support Keiko. Although the movie, Free Willy, made Keiko famous, it is the children who worked hard to help send Keiko home.

We believe that Keiko is where he should be. We believe that it is better to be free to make the choice of swimming away with a family or just to be alone. We believe that Keiko is better off in the wild than in a concrete pool some where in the United States or any where else in the world.

It seems strange to us that the only people who want to recapture Keiko are those who know there will be a lot of money to be made. We know they are not truly concerned about Keiko, because not one of those involved in working with captive whales and dolphins has offered even a little of the money they made to help Keiko go home. They are afraid that if Keiko is successful, then other Orcas might be just as successful.

These people tend to spread stories that Keiko is not eating well and not strong, but we think that an animal that can swim from Iceland to Norway must be pretty healthy.

Lolita's Legion thanks the people and government of Norway for saying NO to the Miami Seaquarium's attempts to take Keiko back to captivity. The Miami Seaquarium, which has the smallest tank in the United States, claims to care about Keiko, but we truly feel that it is just a matter of money. We believe that if the people of the world decided not to visit places that held Orcas and Dolphins in captivity, then these places would soon lose interest in keeping them and find some other way to make money.

The great Gandhi once said that a nation can be judged on how it treats its animals. Well, today in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of the children of the world, Norway has proven itself to be a great Nation.

We invite the children of Norway to visit Lolita's Legion. Currently, it is available only in English and French.


Carl Dortch
Director, Lolita's Legion
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Researchers blast Keiko project
October 21, 2002 (Aftenposten) Norwegian researchers look set to stir up more international controversy. They claim efforts to re-introduce celebrity killer whale Keiko back into the wilds are doomed and almost abusive.
"A tame wolf will probably be killed quite quickly by other males in the flock," Roeskraft said. "Keiko would probably also be an easy target for other males in an orca flock."
The researchers' remarks are likely to inflame Keiko fans around the world, who have been cheering efforts to return Keiko to the wild. Another Norwegian researcher sparked ire last month when he suggested Keiko should be destroyed before trying to face a winter on his own.

Officials find new home for Keiko
October 15, 2002 (Aftenposten) Norwegian authorities have found a new winter home for celebrity killer whale Keiko. They also will protect Keiko from commercial exploitation and continue efforts to reintroduce him to the wild.
Keiko won't be moving very far. Officials from Norway's Directorate of Fisheries said he can spend the winter in a bay near the coastal township where he first surfaced early last month. They made it clear they won't allow Keiko to be recaptured or used in commercial ventures.

Caretakers find winter home with 'choices' for Keiko
October 16, 2002 (Portland Oregonian) A grassy slope descends to a pebble-filled beach that spills into the clear, calm, deep water of Taknes Bay, Norway.
After scouring the country's coast in search of winter digs for Keiko the killer whale, his caretakers said Tuesday that next week they will move the "Free Willy" star to the scenic bay, about six miles from where he now swims.
Keepers will feed Keiko, but he will be free to roam the bay, neighboring fjords -- even out to sea. He will be equipped with satellite and VHF tracking devices, at least through winter.
"This is not about having him stay there forever," said David Phillips, founder of the San Francisco-based Free Willy Keiko Foundation. "This is about giving him choices." "In January, maybe before, we'll take him out and put him in with wild whales again and be ready to continue the odyssey."

October 11

[Ric O'Barry]

This is exactly what Jeff Foster and the other International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) dolphin trainers did with Keiko: Forcing him to be sociable, then sweet talking him into coming back to his sea pen every day. They were getting paid to extinguish the unnatural, trained behaviors that Keiko learned throughout his many years spent in captivity but, according to eye witnesses, Foster continued to bond with Keiko, playing with him and making sure that he remained dependent on people. For example, in the sea pen in Iceland, Foster would put on his dry suit, get in the water with a huge rubber inner-tube from a truck, and play with Keiko. Keiko would flip the inner-tube over with Foster in it, and then the dolphin would be fed, and this, to any captive dolphin, would be perceived as a food reward. In other words, in the incident described above, Keiko was being rewarded for exhibiting abnormal, trained behaviors. It should be no surprise to anyone that one of the first things that Keiko did when he showed up in Norway was to flip over a rubber raft with two children in it. (This is just one example) Keiko continues to interact with people, just as he was trained to do by Foster and the IMATA dolphin trainers that were hired to prepare him for freedom.

IMATA dolphin trainers should have been kept away from Keiko from the very beginning, one cannot "train" a dolphin to become a wild animal. It's the training itself that is the problem. For example, when one wants to wean a captive dolphin off of dead fish and get him on live fish, one can't do this by giving the dolphin the hand signal to catch the live fish, blow the whistle and reward the dolphin with a dead fish if he shows interest in the live fish. By trying to make a dolphin catch live fish by the use of training (such as hand signals) you are teaching the dolphin to socially bond with humans and to associate humans with food. Furthermore, you are teaching the dolphin that something that should come natural to him is really just another trained behavior or a trick. This is why call what we do "un-training." For details please go to: http://www.dolphinproject.org/subdetail.cfm?menu_id=539&submenu_id=326

In my personal opinion, and at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I suspect that this gallant effort to free Keiko was designed to fail by Jeff Foster and the staff of IMATA dolphin trainers. They became Keiko's Trojan Horse.

Mr. Foster made $100.000 a year working with Keiko, laughing all the way to the bank.

Today this same team of IMATA dolphin trainers are using the profits that they made from the Free Keiko Project to capture wild dolphins and establish yet another captive dolphin facility someplace in the Caribbean! And now it's up to us to stop them.

Lets hope that Foster's former employers will help us with this new and very important campaign. I'm afraid it's going to be difficult to prevent these planned dolphin captures, and we will need all the help that we can get. Lets also hope that the effort to free Keiko is not going to be perceived by the world as a twenty million dollar project for the elite. In other words, if you care about Keiko, you should care about all of them.

Ric O'Barry

October 9

Still no home for Keiko (Aftenposten) October 9, 2002
Authorities and experts have been pondering for weeks, but still no final decision has been taken about where celebrity killer whale Keiko will be spending the frosty winter months in Norway.
Now that Keiko is getting regular exercise with his handlers he spends more of his free time resting. Keiko fans rarely see his soaring leaps and can no longer go near him.
Local authorities expected the now regular thousands of weekend visitors to continue streaming in to see Keiko - the whale is still popular, even if he now can only be admired from afar.

Keiko the killer whale stays a 'Free Willie' (San Francisco Chronicle) October 4, 2002
Norway and the United States have hit the Miami Seaquarium with a one- two knockout punch on the marine park's request to capture Keiko the killer whale and put him back in a tank.

The aquarium requested permission from Norwegian officials to take Keiko, star of the "Free Willy" movies, from the fjords where he is wintering and also applied for a U.S. permit to bring him to Florida.

On Thursday, the fisheries arm of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration returned the Miami Seaquarium's application, calling it incomplete because Norwegian officials declined the park's request last week.

"If Norway won't allow for a capture, then that's that," said Connie Barclay, a fisheries spokeswoman for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

Park officials argued that Keiko needed rescuing before he starves or is injured by the spectators flocking to see him. Keiko was released into the north Atlantic Ocean off Iceland in August after a nine-year, $20 million rehabilitation process, and swam to Norway. The United States will reconsider the application if Norwegian officials change their minds, Barclay said.

Keiko is thriving in Norway's waters, and capturing him would be a big step backward, Norwegian Ambassador Knut Vollebaek wrote in a Sept. 24 letter to Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who had sent the park's initial request to Norwegian officials.

"In principle we are skeptical to keeping huge animals like whales in captivity," Vollebaek wrote.

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries agency response made no judgments about Keiko's situation or about the aquarium's application, and treated the decision as technical. Had the agency approved the application, the request would have undergone a 30-day public comment period.

That likely would have been contentious, as an ad hoc committee of 28 environmental and animal rights groups had already formed in opposition to the request.

Members of those groups are pleased by the agency's decision, but think it should have come sooner.

"We considered this an illegal application in the first place because the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation has all the permits regarding Keiko," said Mark Berman, assistant director of the San Francisco-based International Marine Mammal Project and an assistant with the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation.

Another of the groups, Puget Sound-based Orca Network, even applied to NOAA Fisheries to take the Miami Seaquarium's 36-year-old orca Lolita and reintroduce her to her native waters near Seattle.

Miami Seaquarium officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. Berman said Keiko is in excellent health and is receiving human contact only from his handlers. Evaluations of Keiko, including an examination by independent scientists before he went to Iceland, have shown Keiko in good health, Berman said.

"Keiko has already been rescued and he certainly doesn't need rescuing again," he said.
E-mail Wyatt Buchanan at wbuchanan@sfchronicle.com.

October 1
[Howard Garrett]
Keiko is free.

The startling truth has so far only been whispered. Twenty-four years after he was wrapped in a net and stolen from his home and family as a mere yearling; ten years after the owners of a Mexican theme park realized their star attraction was dying despite all the love and care they could give him; nine years after a children’s movie plucked heart strings and revealed the desperate plight of its namesake; eight years after a telecom billionaire made freeing Keiko his personal challenge; six years after Keiko arrived at his spacious custom pool in Oregon; four years after he once again tasted his ancestral Icelandic home waters, Keiko, contrary to torrents of disbelief that still rage on, is a free whale.

His choices are now his own. Starting in mid-July he easily swam 1,000 miles across the stormy North Atlantic to a Norwegian fjord and found some human company. We can only speculate on why he didn’t stay with the orcas he was last seen among in July, but two primary reasons stand out. First, he was out of shape for the 100 mile/day marathon jogs that are typical of oceanic orcas. Keiko was essentially locked in a basement for over twenty years, then let out briefly to walk around the block a few times in the past three years, but the cardiovascular stamina and musculoskeletel strength required for maintaining proximity with his unfettered cousins calls for some serious workouts. He gave himself a good one: Six weeks of 40-60 mile/day runs while diving regularly to 40 meters and pursuing and catching all the fish he could eat on the way. Without a doubt he ran a personal best and is now in by far the best shape of his life.

The second (speculative) reason why Keiko is not now among family is that it takes time to rejoin the clan. Just having the right genes doesn’t automatically make you a member. Even knowing the right calls in the right dialect doesn’t instantly make up for two decades’ absence. Orca families are built on trust, love and loyalty, and as we learned from Springer, the little two-year-old calf reunited with her family after a year’s absence, you have to show you mean it and wait to be welcomed before you get a warm embrace. Plus, Keiko may not have found his closest family just yet. Nobody has a clue how orca family systems work in the Atlantic and Keiko may need to look around, or even ask around for a while, before he’ll meet up with close kin. Keiko’s legendary friendliness is surely an asset, but it’s been 24 years.

September 1 Keiko wandered into a Norwegian harbor and found some human folks to play with. His veterinarian for the past six years measured his waistline and found he hadn’t lost an inch. Some excited and generous Norwegians tossed him some fish and he ate them. He wasn’t begging, just interacting. When Springer bounded out of her net pen to rejoin her family she grabbed a fish and held it crosswise in her mouth. She didn’t eat it, she took it to her family. Sharing food seems to have ritual meaning for orcas. A young girl played the theme from Free Willy to Keiko on her harmonica and he seemed to love it. He wasn’t begging then either.

The plan at this moment is to set up a monitoring station in some remote fjord along the coast of Norway and let Keiko know that if he desires food or company he’ll find it there. In the next few months thousands of orcas from all over the North Atlantic will converge on the coast of Norway to load up on herring. Keiko will have limitless opportunities to mingle and merge with any and all. His choices are all his own from here on out. Let the shouting begin. KEIKO IS FREE!!

September 23
[Brian Block]
Personally, I’m surprised that the activists are angry about all this [Seaquarium's attempt to "rescue" Keiko from the ocean]. It’s a dreamy situation. Push Hertz until he’s foaming at the mouth mad, and he’ll do something pretty foolish, like attract attention to his sh*tty little backyard pond he’s been keeping a 22’ whale in for over 3O years! This is a miraculous development, mark my words! If I have any powers of prognostication, this will be the final death-knell for the SQ. It’s too outlandish to fail us. Keep this in mind whenever you hear a little news blip about it. Watch as the SQ slips further and further into debt, desperation, and obsolescence! I was stunned when I first heard about Hertz application, not because of how evil he is, not because of how brazen he is, but because nobody in his camp had enough sense to talk him out of the suicide mission. Are they kidding?! Even if they had a facility that could handle 2 Orcas, the public outcry against this will surely leave them with a great big fat eviction notice and pink slips for all their employees.

September 20
[Mark Berman]



The application will not reach the Federal Register for a time, but we need to insist to NMFS to reject the application and return it to the Miami Seaquarium.

We need to demand from Arthur Hertz he is making a big mistake here and must withdraw the application. I have called two media outlets....spread this far and wide!

Norway has stated that Keiko is safe there, but we need to hit hard here in the US, and also ask Norway to not allow any capture or interference with Keiko's progress.

Gene Nitta, Director of Protected Resources, NMFS
email: gene.nitta@noaa.gov
phone: 301-713-2289, fax: 301-713-0376.

Miami Seaquarium Arthur Hertz, owner
email: ahertz@msq.cc
phone: 305-361-5705 fax: 305-365-0075

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida has sent a letter to Norway requesting that Keiko be imported to Miami Seaquarium. His phone numbers are:
850-907-1100, 813-228-2476, 305-536-7293

Gov. Jeb Bush's email is: jeb@jeb.org

You can also send a message directly to
The Ministry of Environment of Norway

The Ministry of Fisheries can be reached via email: postmottak@fid.dep.no
or phone +47 22 24 90 90 or fax +47 22 24 95 85.

With enough pressure from worldwide we should be able to keep Keiko free!! Do it for Keiko, the other captives, and ourselves. THANK YOU.
Earth Island Institute
MORE from Mark Berman:
It has been confirmed that this application is at NMFS, and now Senator Graham of Florida is requesting Norway give Keiko to Miami. Call his number and request this letter be withdrawn! 850-907-1100 . 813-228-2476 305- 536-7293.thanks

Maritza Arceo
Public Relations Manager
Miami Seaquarium
4400 Rickenbacker Cswy
Miami, FL 33149
(305) 365-2525 Office
(305) 365-0075 Fax
Inquiries about Keiko:
You may have read or seen the recent news accounts concerning the now famous killer whale, Keiko, who gained fame appearing in the movie "Free Willy". If so, then you are no doubt aware of the difficulty and danger he faces as he tries to survive in the wild. Based on our expertise and experience, Miami Seaquarium has long been concerned that after almost two decades under human care Keiko is not a good candidate for release.

Keiko is currently in the coastal waters of Norway, interacting with people, begging for fish, and approaching boats with propellers that could severely harm him. A video has also been aired of Keiko overturning a small, motorized boat. These activities and Keiko's likely continued interactions with humans in an uncontrolled setting pose serious safety and health risks for people and for Keiko.

As a facility dedicated to the care of marine mammals, Miami Seaquarium has an interest in the ongoing health and well being of Keiko. To that end, we have contacted appropriate authorities and offered to rescue Keiko and insure (sic) his survival. We will continue to monitor his plight in the waters off of Norway and stand ready to assist in any way that is appropriate.
All of you who have been following the Free Lolita campaign know what deplorable conditions she is living in at the Miami Seaquarium - to think that Hertz could be bold enough to now ask for another whale to share that tiny tank is preposterous! This would not only be a setback for Keiko, but would be putting him back in the same inhumane conditions he was rescued from in Mexico at the very beginning. This is a reflection of the fear the Marine Park Industry is feeling in the wake of Keiko's progress this summer - he is basically a free whale, and that sets a precedent the industry does not want to even think about.....
Howard Garrett and Susan Berta
Orca Network

September 3
[Helene O'Barry]

Viivi Koomson wrote: "In my opinion, if Keiko´s bond to humans needs to be broken, as I thought the goal was, so he needs to realize that his longing for human companions is totally the wrong direction. (...) It is not Keiko´s responsability to correct human mistakes, and it is not his duty to swim with humans, listen to music and campaign our campaigns ambassadoring around for us. "

I think Viivi Koomson is making some very good points. Orcas are among the most family-oriented species on Earth. I can't help but wonder if it is due to the lack of pod members that Keiko is seeking the company of humans. And I can't help but wonder what method was used to extinguish the trained, unnatural behaviors and human bonding that Keiko learned throughout his many years in captivity. (Has anyone actually seen the protocol that was used?) At any rate, if we want to help Keiko focus his attention on his own world instead of that of humans, treating him as a lovable pet can't possibly be the solution. - Furthermore, Keiko will have to catch more than 100 pounds of live fish daily. He will most likely be seen as competition by the local fishermen. As a Scandinavian myself, I know that some of these people would have no problem killing Keiko. He is a threat to their business. He is also a threat to the High North Alliance (the whalers) as they, for obvious reasons, don't want the public to see these cute pictures of people swimming with a whale: They have a vested interest in preventing the public from falling in love with Keiko, or any other whale.

(You'll find their web site here: web site: http://www.highnorth.no/Default.asp )

Describing Keiko as an ambassador -- or a possible tool to understand the connection between humans and whales -- sounds appealing to the imagination, but it doesn't reflect the clear and present danger that Keiko could be facing in the immediate future. One newspaper calls Keiko "the world's biggest bath toy." In another article, someone calls for the destruction of Keiko. I think we have every reason to be concerned, unless the situation changes. Let's all pray that he moves away from this whaling nation, to a more friendly environment.

Helene O'Barry
Dolphin Project

September 3
[Howard Garrett]

This is a wonderful and novel situation. Good work, Naomi and crew. I don't see it as a setback for Keiko at all. He doesn't seem to have an problems getting around in the ocean, but now we can't just abandon him to the cold, cruel, ferocious people. I am concerned about people like NMFS and the marine mammal scientist in Norway who wants to kill Keiko. If he stays around harbors, no doubt there will be a serious campaign to capture him "for his own good" and because it frightens people who think he is a whale "out of control" in the harbor.

Keiko may need to be monitored simply to pacify the interveners. He can't be forced out of populated areas except by sonic booms or cattle prods or some kind of nastiness like that, but he would be safest if just a few well-informed people were designated by Norway to go out and keep him company. That seems to be all he's looking for. Play games with him, play music to him, dive with him, etc. Also monitor his activities and whereabouts to make sure he's not getting into any trouble. Also make sure sickos don't go out to do him harm. Then lead him out of the harbor when whales are around. That may need to be done more than once and in more than one harbor. This would take a thought-out plan and some dynamic leadership in Norway to propose and carry it out. The alternative is that a variety of people who either don't understand Keiko's good intentions and are frightened because he's so different, or are afraid of his popularity and what he means to so many people, or have an interest in the aquarium business, will fill the media with justification to recapture him. I hope there are people ready and willing to defend Keiko's right to remain free.

two more cents,

September 3
[Ben White]

Ok, maybe its just me, but does anyone else see something odd about all of this hand wringing about Keiko dropping by the Norway harbor and playing with kids? I saw a very brief clip of the episode while I was eating at a restaurant last night and Keiko looked so good it almost made me cry. Granted, the times I saw him before were not at his best- at Reino Aventura in Mexico City and later at Newport, Oregon. If Keiko is in serious trouble it comes from Bill Hogarth of the pathetically manipulatable NMFS putting pressure on the Icelandic Government (or the Norwegian) to interfere. Seems to me his dropping by the harbor gave us (and Lanny Cornell) a chance to take a look at him to verify that he is eating. Sure enough, he looks all inflated and plump.

Keiko is not, and never will be, just another whale. He is the most amazing survival story in the grisly history of grabbing these gentle giants that goes all the way back to the Romans. Yeah, I understand all of the concern about him hanging around boats and ship traffic. But the important fact is that he is FREE. He is, to all appearances healthy and eating well. What he decides to do now, even it is to let kids ride on his back, is up to him, not us.

The most enduring message that I ever percieved from dolphins and whales is that they are just fine, thank you, on their own. They don't need us even a little bit, except to get humankind to stop from hurting them. My own work is directed at our own species.

In Keiko, we truly have what the captive industry always pretended to have: an ambassador. May he live long and prosper, going to bay after bay until the whole world falls in love with him and stops killing and capturing his brethren.

Just my two cents
ben white

September 2
[Paul Spong]
Hello everyone,

I'm attaching a release about Keiko that is intended for as wide a distribution as possible, as soon as possible. Keiko is presently in a small fjord in Norway & is interacting with people. This isn't great news, but it's not all bad either - Keiko is obviously thriving after his long journey & he has received a very warm welcome in Norway.

Anything you can do to get this release out to your media contacts will be very much appreciated!

cheers, & all best wishes,


[Free Willy Keiko Foundation and The Humane Society of the US]


The Humane Society of the U.S.

Keiko Project

Keiko's Veterinarian Proclaims Him To Be Thriving

Incident With Fishing Vessel and Public Prompts A Plea For Boats and People Not To Interact With Or Feed Keiko


David Phillips
Free Willy Keiko Foundation
(415) 788-3666 X145

Nick Braden
The Humane Society of the US
(202) 251 4849

Nearly 60 days after the orca whale Keiko left his sea pen in Iceland this summer as part of a historic and unprecedented effort to reintroduce him to the wild, visual observations made in Norwegian waters confirm that he is in excellent health. During the past three days, Keiko Project staff obtained close-range photos and video documenting Keiko's physical condition.

Dr. Lanny Cornell, Keiko's lead veterinarian and an expert with more than 30 years of experience with orca whales stated:
"I have reviewed the photos just taken of Keiko, and it is clear to me that Keiko is fit and thriving. After 60 days at sea and traveling more than one thousand miles, Keiko is strong and does not appear to have lost any weight whatsoever. There can no longer be any doubt that Keiko has foraged successfully."
Keiko's crossing of the North Atlantic began on July 29th, when he was last seen in the company of a group of wild whales and began swimming in an easterly direction away from Iceland. Over the next several weeks he covered more than 1,000 miles. A satellite tag continues to provide data on his location and has also recorded his frequent dives to depths greater than 50 meters. Throughout the past 60 days, project staff has continued to monitor both his position and diving behavior as well as to seek opportunities to obtain visual observations of Keiko.

Yesterday, however, Keiko's reintroduction to the wild suffered a setback when he followed a Norwegian fishing vessel and entered a small harbor in Norway. Keiko project staff, who have been in Norway monitoring his VHF signal since his approach to the coast, were able to locate Keiko, but not before he had interacted with several vessels and members of the public, some of whom evidently provided food to him and entered the water. Project staff remain on site in Norway to monitor Keiko's status and educate people about the project's goals.

Dave Phillips, Director of the Free Willy Keiko Foundation, stated:
"By all accounts, Keiko has made phenomenal progress this year. He's proving he has the skills to be a wild whale, but it is critical that he not be encouraged to come to boats or people." He continued: "We hope the public interactions are temporary and that Keiko is able to return to the open sea."
Paul Irwin, President of the Humane Society of the US, the organization playing a lead role in the operations of the Keiko Project, stated:
"We are appealing to all boaters to avoid Keiko and give him all the space he needs to be fully self-sufficient." He continued: "Our efforts in moving Keiko from captivity to the wild have always been directed by Keiko's best interests. We will continue to do exactly what is best for him."

August 28
[Paul Spong]
I thought to add my voice to those of others who have weighed in on the Keiko debate recently. As some of you know, I've been peripherally involved in trying to figure out the Keiko "problem" since the crisis of last fall. There've been numerous difficult issues to face, and I have to say that I've been pessimistic as well as optimistic about the outcome. I'm delighted that the HSUS and the Free Willy Keiko Foundation have joined forces in a way that has enabled the project to carry on, and very thankful to the Wendy P. McCaw Foundation for providing crucial financial resources. None of what is happening now could have happened without all of these entities coming together and making it possible - and "we" as well as Keiko owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of them.

What is happening now is that Keiko is finally and forever free. He is foraging successfully and travelling large distances - sometimes over 120km in a single day - and giving every indication that he is once again a wild orca. Day by day, as the data come in about his position and the depth and duration of his dives (as deep as 72m & as long as 10 minutes) my confidence in the outcome grows. This is day 53 - that is, it is now 53 days since Keiko was taken out of his pen into the company of other orcas. He has returned to the pen just once, on his own, where he was fed and then taken back out to wild orcas again and left with them. He has been "out" ever since. Two storm events happened that forced the tracking vessel back to port while Keiko stayed at sea. On the first occasion, Keiko was seen to still be with other orcas when the storm subsided. After the second storm, Keiko was nowhere to be seen, nor were the other orcas. However, he was wearing satellite & radio "tags" that enabled his position to be verified daily. An overflight a few days after Keiko's departure verified (via radio signal) that he was among cetaceans - numerous species, including minke, humpback, sperm, pilot whales & dolphins, though neither he nor other orcas were seen. Keiko headed east and kept going east until he was above the Faeroes. Another attempt to sight him, via helicopter, failed. Shortly after, Keiko went north, then east again.

As I've been following Keiko's journey, at times with anxiety, but mostly with increasing comfort, I've had in the back of my mind that soon, when the battery on his satellite tag runs out, we will not know where he is, or what is happening to him - unless he comes into human contact again. Keiko is on his own now, and what happens to him is up to him. Keiko is surprising everybody, including me, with his resilience and the pace of his conversion from captive to wild whale. My hopes go with him, and my profound gratitude goes out to the HSUS, the FWKF, the Wendy P. McCaw Foundation, and to Craig McCaw - without who's vision and generosity none of Keiko's incredible journey would have been possible.

My suggestion to you is simple - share the joy, and celebrate the moment.

cheers, & my best wishes to you all,

August 28
[Howard Garrett and Susan Berta]

August 28, 2002

To: Dr. Robert Matlin
Marine Mammal Commission
4340 East-West Highway, Suite 905
Bethesda MD 20814

Via Fax: 301-504-0099

From: Howard Garrett and Susan Berta, Orca Network

Re: Jeff Foster, et al.'s concerns related to the status of Keiko Project

We are writing to help answer the questions raised by Jeff Foster and other former staff members of the Keiko reintroduction effort. While we gratefully acknowledge their care and expertise in bringing Keiko from the brink of death and rehabilitating him, often in adverse circumstances, for many years, and while we don't question their desire to fulfill the goals of the project, we have questions about their perspective in assessing his capabilities as a free-ranging orca.

We believe the present protocols are being conducted in a responsible manner with the best interests of the animal as the foremost concern. A look at the perspectives of the previous staff in relation to that of the present staff can explain the discrepancy in their assessments of Keiko's welfare. An important staffing protocol for a project that is intended to return a captive cetacean to its wild habitat should include a balance of animal care experts and field researchers with long experience observing and sharing information about how the animals normally live in the wild. The animal care experts should provide rehabilitative and medical care and procedures to prepare the animal for embarking on its encounter(s) with conspecifics and its natural habitat. The field researchers should then carry out the actual reintroduction and make responsible decisions as to when or if to intervene on the animal's behalf if there appears to be any serious problem. The animal care staff should be on hand in case problems should develop.

From the beginning of Keiko's reintroduction effort until 2002, virtually every staff member involved in Keiko's care has been recruited from the captive display industry and was without significant experience in the study of cetaceans in natural habitats. To our knowledge, after speaking with the majority of the most authoritative field researchers involved in studies of orcas in the wild, on no occasion was any field scientist ever asked to join the staff or even consulted to assist in establishing release protocols, or to assess Keiko's capabilities or the prospects of his acceptance by wild whales. (Robin Baird, who has extensive experience in the study of Eastern Pacific transient and resident orcas, was consulted specifically to help design and implement a time/depth recorder, but was not involved in decision-making about reintroduction procedures.)

We don't know the reason for this exclusion of field researchers, but given the obvious need to include field researchers in the design of the reintroduction protocols, not doing so appears to indicate that scientists involved in field research were not granted sufficient credibility or were considered compromised by "unscientific" concerns for animals. Whatever the explanation, the implications of this oversight have been clear for several years. In 1997, although Woods Hole researchers had determined that Keiko was vocalizing in his native Icelandic dialect, none of the personnel on the staff had inquired and none were aware of this fact, until an independent field researcher recorded Keiko through the viewing window and his discovery was indirectly relayed to a journalist, who asked Jeff Foster, who then checked with Woods Hole and was informed of the discovery. Keiko's use of his native dialect was an absolutely crucial element in determining the feasibility of his reintroduction, as any field researcher would have known. This critical information was not understood, or not believed to be important, by the staff.

In our opinion, Foster, et al.'s letter to the Marine Mammal Commission reflects this obvious staffing imbalance in favor of animal husbandry personnel and their continuing distrust of field researchers now directing the effort. The letter makes repeated reference to the need for intervention by the "walk" boat and a helicopter on the assumption that Keiko needed their assistance or for logistical or personnel reasons, rather than holding back on the assumption that Keiko was competent to travel, forage and associate with conspecifics on his own. We suggest that this consistently intense level of intervention may have affected Keiko's behavior to the extent that he appeared disoriented and unable to navigate, thus providing further rationale for intervention. Foster and his staff were Keiko's only social group for the past six years. Keiko couldn't easily make the break and rejoin wild whales while they were monitoring him from close range and calling him back whenever they began to feel uncomfortable. It's probable that he felt their tug on him constantly, which may have interrupted his efforts to build relationships with wild orcas. In addition, by not allowing Keiko to leave Icelandic waters due to logistical challenges, personnel issues, and potential regulatory issues, all unrelated to his competence, they probably hampered his ability to continue to accompany free-ranging killer whales who frequently traverse the North Atlantic. Such a stipulation, imposed to meet the needs of the staff, clearly compromised Keiko's ability to resume the range of travels normal for his natal community.

It appears that Foster's concerns about whether Keiko is foraging successfully are based on their unconfirmed assumption that Keiko is unable to forage, compounded by their unwillingness to accept at face value the data provided by the present staff. Keiko was catching and eating half his diet in live fish in Newport in 1998 (Eugene Register-Guard, July 4, 1998). He continued eating live fish given to him in Iceland. Springer and Luna, the orca calves found separated from their families, have shown us that one-year-olds are fully competent to find, catch and eat their fill. Keiko is a 25-year-old male in his prime. For over 50 days he's been traveling 30 to 50 miles a day, regularly diving 40-60 meters, and he knows where to go if he's hungry. He's going the other way. We share Foster's suggestion that Keiko should be found and photographed to confirm that he is eating, and we share his belief that attempts are being made to do so. We believe the data released by HSUS that indicate that Keiko continues to be swimming long distances each day and that he is diving in a manner consistent with foraging behavior.

Has Keiko forgotten his family members? Considering that dolphins have evolved for tens of millions of years in marine environments that remain hostile to humans, with brains up to four times the size of our own, we should pause before assuming we understand their mental capacities. At birth, after 17 months of gestation, their brains are already about 4500 cc's, or three times the size of adult human brains, indicating that they are far more consciously aware, and probably better able to begin learning needed knowledge and skills at birth, than human babies are. John Ford, who discovered that different social groups use completely distinct call systems, says that orcas in captivity never forget how to use their family's characteristic calls.

There is no reason to believe Keiko would forget his family members, or how to catch fish, or any of the social skills required of a community member. Nor has he likely been forgotten by his family. There is every reason to believe that dolphins know family members as distinct individuals, early in their lives, and their memories are prodigious. They are aware of their environment in ways we don't have tools to measure, and they are highly adaptable to changing circumstances. Their mental alacrity in accommodating tank routines, learning tricks and devising their own games is legendary. Whatever they may need to learn or relearn from their family members could not be too difficult for them. To this day Keiko probably holds vivid memories of his family life as he experienced it before he was captured.

Finally, after their long evolutionary development as highly conscious and eminently communicative social mammals without fear of predators, their family and community systems have reached a level of complexity, cohesion and refinement that humans are not in a position to easily judge. The stability and resilience of dolphin families is well established, especially for orca pods. When an individual member needs assistance, the others often provide it. Dolphins, and orcas in particular, have been documented sharing food in a variety of settings. Behavioral observations worldwide verify this tendency toward mutual aid among dolphins. Orcas and dolphins in general also demonstrate a remarkable lack of aggressive behavior in their social relations, both within and between pods and communities. Male to male aggression is rare if not unknown among orcas. Whether we draw from the scientific record or our personal experience with them, it's hard to miss the tremendous strength and adaptability of whales and dolphins.

Captive display industry personnel do tend to overlook the inherent strengths of orcas, regardless of time in captivity. We believe this bias and their tendency to discount the opinions of field researchers goes far to explain the concerns expressed by Jeff Foster and the other staff in regard to Keiko's status and his reintroduction effort.

With best regards,

Howard Garrett
Susan Berta
Orca Network

August 27
[Peter Hamilton]
I hope you stay firm in your position (and writings). The Aquarium Industry is trying to sabotage our efforts in many ways. When they cannot beat us they try to control the situation by using their political contacts/ pr spin.

A good example is Springer who would have been in captivity now if there was not opposition. Now the Vancouver Aquarium is saying that they are happy that she is with orcas. Lifeforce opposed any barbaric aquarium capture methods. Foster nearly drowned Springer when he roped her around her tail flukes - the third boat rushed in to get her head above water. Roping can cause severe injuries.

Also, The transmitters on Springer not only slowed her down but also slow down the reunion - orcas would be cautious around other(s) with strange devices emmitting sound. We must work hard to make sure government agencies (and some NPOs) don't go to aquariums for advice but go to those who have studied and protected orcas in wild.

August 27
[Ben White]
What we have now, folks, is a true success story. Keiko is swimming free now for over fifty days, diving and foraging with wild whales. Not only are his behaviors all that could be hoped for, the information accumulated from his flight to freedom is the most ever obtained from a free swimming orca.

From everything I know about wild whales, partly connected to studies here off the San Juan island about the additional energy whales are now expending to find salmon, there is simply no way Keiko could be alive right now if he were not eating. Just for one, studies of orcas caught in a bay up in Canada a few years ago showed that they were dying from starvation after about forty days- and this is while they were practically still.

As old and beat up activists (ok, maybe that's just me), I think we are so used to our victories being fleeting and out defeats permanent that we really can't believe that maybe we succeeded this time. Between Craig, and now Wendy McCaw's generosity, the perserverance of Dave Phillips and Mark Berman, and the leadership of HSUS, we now have a story far better than the Free Willy movie. As Patti Forkan's assistant Barbara said yesterday to me-this is the stuff of goose bumps. But before we raise our glasses to the most difficult reintroduction possible that succeeded against all odds, we need to beat back the nattering naysayers. Apparently these are coming from not only the industry and their biostitutes but from within our august group as well. I humbly suggest that this criticism at this moment is, at best, too smart by half and has a real potential of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

Now is the time to cheer and circle the wagons, not add to the hand wringing over whether Keiko can be trusted to exist on his own. Finally finally, for the first time in over a decade, Keiko's life IS his own. Does anyone really want now for a boat to chase down Keiko and start the whole job of weaning him from human imprinting yet again- just so we can make sure he has herring on his breath?

For those of you that can take the time, I encourage you strongly to call Patti Forkan at 301-258-3002 and praise her and HSUS for their courage and perseverance and for winning us one for the ages, and give your support for staying the course. HSUS is now being beat up for doing the right thing.

Keiko's obvious message is the one that makes Augie Busch of Sea World lose sleep at night- and why the presently jobless Jeff Foster is trying mightily to stop the success story that says:

After being captured at two, not knowing his family or language, taken to Niagara and kept in a covered warehouse for years, schlepped to Mexico City and kept in water so warm he had to lose his blubber to stay alive, trucked down the streets of Mexico City, flown to Oregon Coast Aquarium, survive an attempt to take him away from the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation, finally airlifted to Iceland and taken on "ocean walks" by trainers who really didn't want him to go free. If Keiko, after all of this can take the leap to freedom- then ALL OF THEM CAN.

Asking for your help for this brave ocean brother one more time,
ben white

August 26
[Suzanne Roy]
On behalf of In Defense of Animals, I'd just like to express our support for the HSUS and the Free Willy Foundation and their recent stewardship of the effort to free Keiko.

The events of this summer are truly extraordinary, and I have great faith that these two organizations will continue to act in the best interests of Keiko, who continues to surprise and amaze us all. I am breathless at the thought of him swimming free in the North Atlantic, and have a deep sense of gratitude to all who dreamed that this could be possible and then made it so. (I am especially thinking of Craig McCaw, without whose incredible generosity, none of this would have taken place.)

As to the naysayers, I believe that Keiko will AGAIN prove them to be wrong. A whale who was starving at sea would not be traveling such vast distances and exhibiting deep diving behaviors.

I recently had the fortune to view an educational video made by an evolutionary biologist from Oxford who took rats bred in the laboratory and released them into a semi-wild setting. It was the first time in 200 generations that these rats had touched dirt, yet their survival instincts remained in tact. The first thing they did was find shelter. The next was to find water. Within hours their whole way of moving changed and they were ambulating with the characteristic hopping motion of wild rats. The began experimenting with different food sources almost immediately. In the end, they thrived and their numbers increased from 50 to over 200 in just six months.

Howie Garrett has eloquently detailed the vast intelligence and complexity of whales. If rats bred in the lab for 200 generations do not lose their survival instincts, then surely a whale will not either. Keiko was ready, he chose freedom, and I am confident that he will be found to be thriving.

Between Springer and Keiko, this has been an exhilarating summer for whale lovers everywhere. Thanks to all the advocates, scientists and experts that have intervened on behalf of these two individuals and have given them a chance at the life of freedom that all beings deserve.

Suzanne Roy

August 26
[Ben White]
Just a refresher history lesson for relative newbies: I do not believe that anything Jeff Foster says concerning Keiko is "unwitting." One consistent throughout the Keiko saga is the industry trying their best to sabotage the effort- all the way back to when Naomi, Ken Balcomb and I went to Mexico City to make a deal for Keiko. To our amazement, we succeeded, only to have the rug pulled out from under us by Sea World. Jeff Foster is (or was) Don Goldsburry's son in law. Don Goldsburry, along with Ted Griffith, were the primary collectors of orcas in the northwest for captive facilities during the seventies. Jeff Foster helped. When I worked stopping the capture of Dall's porpoises off my island a few years ago, guess who the guy in the bow of the collections boat was? Jeff Foster with a hoop net- probably the most dangerous way to capture cetaceans. The entire time Foster was in Iceland he was badmouthing the project and nay-saying Keiko's chances- even while he was being paid over $100,000 a year by Ocean Futures.

Little known except by a few is how close we came to having Keiko sent to Ontario Marineland just a few months ago. The money from Craig McCaw was gone and squandered by high rollers and poor management. A few of us started working on the problem and trying to put together a coalition of ngo groups to take on the project in a much more streamlined manner. But one prerequisite was that the management would be changed. Why? Because there were so many people either part of or sympathetic with the industry that were involved, sucking up Keiko money like ticks.

The coalition idea was derailed when HSUS, bless their hearts, stepped forward to shoulder the responsibility for Keiko. But I remain really concerned that this baloney from Foster will prompt someone to go out and save Keiko (from himself.) We now have a success story for the ages. If it can be besmirched by the industry in any way- you can be sure that it will be.
Love and Revolution,
ben white

August 26
[Margaret Templeton]

My question to the forum is:
Until there has been visual contact with Keiko how do the experts really know that he is getting enough to eat? The dives could be that he is imitating the other wild orcas, he was well fed when he went out into the wild for the last time. What would the estimated time be for him to live off his blubber? How long before he became weakened by not enough to eat? Like so many layman I am concerned about his catching his prey.

Is there any action at this time to make visual contact with Keiko? I don't think it is necessary to recapture him, but I think some sort of visual determination of his physical condition is a good idea? Thank you.
Hello Margaret,

August 26
[Susan Berta]
I just talked to someone at Ocean Futures, who is still working on the project during the transition to the Humane Society taking over (we had also talked to HSUS last week, and were told much the same thing). They have been attempting to get a visual (& hopefully video or photodocumentation) of Keiko, his condition, and proof that he is foraging. The problem is that he is now out in open waters where conditions are very difficult for boats or planes. He is approaching closer to Norway, which will hopefully make it easier to spot him. Since they are following him only by satellite tag in a huge area, it is difficult to pinpoint his location and then get there via boat or plane, in rough weather and seas, but they are trying!! This is the most difficult part of his reintroduction, where they don't have constant contact with Keiko or control over his movements, but in order for him to continue to be free, it is also necessary to let him have some distance and freedom from humans (which at this point the physical condition of the ocean is making impossible anyway). They did say that his diving data continues to show he is most likely foraging, but as you point out, that isn't total proof, only a good visual of him will show that. Howie can better answer how long it would take for him to show physical signs of starvation if he is not eating - however, Naomi Rose of the HSUS did say she didn't believe he could keep up traveling the distances he's been traveling without eating, so that is also another indication of his condition. The person I talked to this morning said that he is now in an area that is known to be very rich in fish and food sources, so it could be that he's hanging around that area for awhile and feeding - they didn't have the tracking data for the last few days yet, but so far the signs are looking good. I hope this helps answer a few of your questions, and I'll have Howie write later as well. Thanks for your comments!

August 26
[Howard Garrett]
Amen to everything Susan said, to which I would add that it's pretty certain that Keiko is eating for many reasons, which are already in the news items and on the forum. He's been out for about 50 days now, diving regularly in areas that are rich in marine life, which means herring, their favorite food in the No. Atlantic. He's been catching and eating live fish since they first gave them to him in 1997, though he preferred to be fed, because for orcas, as with humans, eating is a social event, and catching and eating fish alone is like...being alone. He'd rather eat with someone, even if it's a human. The known record for an orca not eating is just over 60 days, as recorded in Hoyt's book, The Whale Called Killer, but those whales were sedentary, trapped in a net. They were also mammal-eating transients being fed fish, so when one of the three died, the other two made a ceremony of breaking the taboo against eating fish, which allowed them to survive until they somehow escaped.

The concerns about whether Keiko is eating look to me like subjective opinion and self-fulfilling prophecy. The real issue here is: to which social group does Keiko belong, humans or orcas? As Springer showed us, rejoining an orca society is not instantaneous. There's a period of rebuilding trust and familiarity. For the past two years the trainers got nervous and kept calling him back. They continually buzzed him with boats and a copter. I believe he felt their tug on him constantly. They were his social group for so many years. He couldn't easily make the break and rejoin wild whales while they were nagging him to come back.

I don't have any latest info, but I believe they are doing all they can to find him and photograph him, but I'm pretty sure they won't call him back unless there's some reason to think he's not doing well. The difference is that now, the assumption, supported by travel and dive data, is that he's doing well, but until this year, the assumption was that he was a loser, albeit a sweet one. He's sweet, but that's helpful for rebuilding trust and familiarity to rejoin orca society. That's his strength.

Note: This is in response to a
4-page letter written by Jeff Foster and other former Keiko project staff, sent to the Marine Mammal Commission, recommending that Keiko be recaptured to make sure he's not starving.

August 25
[Susan Berta]
More on Keiko....

We would like to add a few words (ok, more than a few....) about the Keiko report we sent out yesterday, which was written in response to comments made by Jeff Foster to the media, the Marine Mammal Commission and NMFS. What we neglected to add was that we acknowledge Jeff is very good with whales, and we applaud his efforts to help with Springer's relocation to Canada, and with the care he has given Keiko the many years he and other trainers worked with him.

What we were trying to do is give some perspective to Keiko's situation, and how it can be interpreted so differently depending on one's background. Jeff is excellent with whales, but most of his experience has been with captive whales, and with capturing wild whales and dophins for the marine park industry; and that has an effect on the way he thinks about these animals - just as our work with wild whales has an effect on the way we think about them.

We cannot say either Springer's or Keiko's reintroductions are successes until next year, but we feel that doesn't make it right to go out and re-capture them because we can't call them unqualified successes yet. We have to give them a chance, and that may involve some risk, though we agree everything should be done to keep risk at a minimum. No one wants these whales to suffer or die, and everyone is doing and saying what they think will help the most, but of course we all have our own personal biases.

We trust that HSUS is doing all they can to track Keiko, and get some updated visual and photographic evidence of his progress. This is difficult to do in Icelandic waters, with a whale that after a long and careful reintroduction program has finally chosen the freedom of the ocean over the security of his net pen and human handlers. Jeff stated that Keiko has not eaten in over a month, yet HSUS observed diving and feeding behaviors earlier this summer, and have some evidence of this with the distances he has covered since leaving his net pen, and by following his dives through his TDR (time/depth recorder) tag.

This is the part of the reintroduction phase that is controlled more by Keiko than by any of his trainers or the organizations involved in his release. It was his choice to leave his pen and the follow-support boats, and to continue traveling away from captivity. We believe that those in charge are doing all they can to track and support Keiko as needed, but their perspective is one of wild whale biologists, rather than that of a captive whale trainer's background.

Keiko needs to be given the chance to succeed, just as Springer has been given her chance. When Springer disappeared from sight for 17 days, and the two orphans she'd been traveling with turned up without her, no one called for a plan to go out and find and recapture her. We all held our breath, hoping she was still with whales and was still ok, but the risk had to be taken of letting her be, to make her way in the wild. Then she showed up with her great-aunt in her grandmother's pod. We'll continue holding our breath for both Springer and Keiko throughout the year, and hope that we can find them again next year, swimming with their kin; but we know there are no guarantees.

Keiko was nearly dead in his pool in Mexico City before a rescue effort was launched, and he has overcome many impossible obstacles to get back to Iceland, and to freedom in the ocean. To watch him cavort freely in the wild, communicating, swimming and interacting with other orcas, is a beautiful sight. His life has already been extended many years beyond what it would have been in Mexico City, or any other captive facility. And though only he can be the judge, we believe his quality of life these past two summers in the open ocean have been beyond anything experienced during his 23 years of captivity. We support HSUS in their sincere efforts to help Keiko be successful in the wild, which has been the stated goal of the Free Willy project over the past nine years. Over and over Keiko has surprised his trainers with his progress, and proven skeptics wrong. It's not over yet, but we have faith that Keiko has not lost his ability to be a wild whale, and hope that with time we will have the proof that this effort has been worth it - not just for Keiko, but for orcas everywhere, wild and captive, who now have new-found fans world-wide because of the Keiko project.

Feel free to send us your thoughts and opinions on this, and we will post them on our website's Keiko Forum -

August 24
[Howard Garrett]

If a captive marine mammal needs attention in any way, Jeff Foster is the guy to call, no doubt about that. I've seen Jeff in action and I'll never forget it.

On Jeff's cries of alarm about Keiko, it is important to know that Jeff, however unwittingly, is a member of the corporate culture of the park industry, and a cornerstone of the culture is to underestimate orcas. Keiko in particular (being the subject of a reintroduction effort) is considered too weak, too domesticated, and just too darn nice, to be cast out into the cold, cruel ocean.

On August 23, Jeff said on the news: "Keiko hasn't eaten for over a month," but Keiko was catching and eating live fish in Newport in 1998. In the April 2, 1998 Eugene Register-Guard: "Keiko grabbed a live fish in his jaws, then swallowed it whole." He..."ate a second fish minutes later, then seemed to lose interest." "They said on better days Keiko catches up to 15 live fish, or about half his daily diet." Springer and Luna have shown us that one-year-olds are fully competent to find, catch and eat their fill. Keiko is a 25-year-old male in his prime. He's travelling roughly 50 miles a day, he's diving 40-60 meters deep regularly, and he knows where to go if he's hungry. He's going the other way.

Orcas, and dolphins in general, are extremely robust animals, whose natural inclination is to exercise vigorously every minute of every day and every night. They are not simply foraging for prey as they move constantly about, twisting, breaching, slapping every appendage on the surface, sometimes racing for long stretches or just jogging in a direct line for miles, or zig-zagging across the horizon. Oceanic dolphins tend to eat at night, when the 'deep scattering layers' bring a cornucopia of fish and squid close to the surface. During the day they often play and socialize, or they may enter what is known as a resting pattern for an hour or more, in which family groups form clusters that swim nearly in unison. But they don't stop swimming. In Dolphin Days, Dr. Kenneth Norris, the late dean of whale biologists, describes the following spinner dolphin behavior as rest: “...they moved almost furtively, tightly bunched, and they spent almost all the time below the surface.”

Dolphins of all species exhibit a truly vast array of behaviors, but in nature they do not for a minute exhibit the sedentary life of a captive orca or dolphin. In natural conditions they travel, forage, play, socialize, spyhop, breach, lobtail, and engage in hundreds of uncategorized activities that never cease. They don't sleep as we know sleep. They need to stay awake to actively control the timing of each explosive breath, or they would drown. The best theory is that they are able to give one hemisphere of their brain a rest while guiding their swimming and breathing with the other side, perhaps alternating hemispheres to even things out between the two sides of their brains. Try that sometime.

Has Keiko forgotten his family members? Considering that dolphins have evolved for tens of millions of years in marine environments that remain hostile to humans, with brains up to four times the size of our own, we should pause before assuming we understand their mental capacities. At birth, after 17 months of gestation, orca brains are already about 4500 cc's, or three times the size of adult human brains, indicating that they are far more consciously aware, and probably better able to begin learning needed knowledge and skills at birth, than human babies are. John Ford, who discovered that different social groups use completely distinct call systems, says that orcas in captivity never forget how to use their family's characteristic calls.

There is no reason to believe Keiko would forget his family members, or how to catch fish, or any of the social skills required of a community member. Nor has he likely been forgotten by his family. There is every reason to believe that dolphins know family members as distinct individuals, early in their lives, and their memories are prodigious. They are aware of their environment in ways we don't have tools to measure, and they are highly adaptable to changing circumstances. Their mental alacrity in accommodating tank routines, learning tricks and devising their own games is legendary. Whatever they may need to learn or relearn from their family members could not be too difficult for them. To this day Keiko probably holds vivid memories of his family life as he experienced it before he was captured.

Finally, after their long evolutionary development as highly intelligent and eminently communicative social mammals without fear of predators, their family and community systems have reached a level of complexity, cohesion and refinement that humans are not in a position to easily judge. The stability and resilience of dolphin families is well established, especially for orca pods. When an individual member needs assistance, the others often provide it. Dolphins, and orcas in particular, have been documented sharing food in a variety of settings. Behavioral observations worldwide verify this tendency toward mutual aid among dolphins. Orcas and dolphins in general also demonstrate a remarkable lack of aggressive behavior in their social relations, both within and between pods and communities. Male to male aggression is unknown among orcas.

Whether we draw from the scientific record or our personal experience with them, it's hard to miss the tremendous strength and adaptability of whales and dolphins.

Foster and the other staff are wrong, whether they know it or not.
Howard Garrett




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