The Orca welfare and Safety Act is a new bill being pushed in California that would make it illegal to “hold in captivity, or use, a wild-caught or captive-bred orca for performance or entertainment purposes.” The bill would also prohibit artificial insemination of captive killer whales in California and block the import of orcas or orca semen from other states.
If passed, the bill would require that all 10 orcas held in tanks at SeaWorld San Diego be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. If that is not possible, then the whales must be “transferred and held in a sea pen that is open to the public and not used for performance or entertainment purposes.”
A captive Orca whale has not been released back into the wild since 1998 when Keiko, the iconic whale from the hit movie “Free Willy,” was successfully released back into his Native Icelandic waters following the public outcry and support of his release.
“Keiko: the Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy” is a documentary exploring the life and success of Keiko’s journey from being captured at the age of 2 for entertainment purposes, his rise to fame following “Free Willy,” the tremendous support among children and adults which helped raise funding for his release, and his experience as a free whale until his death in 2003.
The Problem and the Solution to Marine Mammal Captivity
With the recent release of the documentary film Blackfish, by filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite, and David Kirby’s book, Death at SeaWorld, the time is right for the highly profitable marine park industry to re-evaluate the manner in which it earns money — having captive killer whales perform tricks and stunts in walled tanks. A needed shift in mission statement could offer the marine park industry an entirely new win-win purpose and put their publicly supported corporate money to its highest and best use.
The new mission statement would engage everyone, the marine park facility, the orca trainers, and the public at large, in a truly educational mission: to rescue, rehabilitate, and release both captive orcas and their trainers. The trainers would be re-trained to work with the orcas in seapens in the open ocean placed whenever possible near the orca’s family pod and country of origin. The orcas would no longer be required to be show animals but would learn and grow in a natural habitat with the goal of eventual release. The question is how this change will be achieved?
There are two must-see documentaries that spell out both the problem and the solution to this complex issue. These films can help greatly to frame the answers to the life-threatening problems facing captive orcas and their trainers.
Blackfish focuses on the plight of Tilikum and the life-threatening situation his trainers work in. Tilikum is an alpha male orca owned by SeaWorld, who has a well-known history of killing three human beings during his captivity. Like Keiko, Tilikum was captured in Iceland at about the age of three. To anyone who watches Blackfish, the mandate for change by marine parks is inescapable.
Keiko The Untold Story – The Star of Free Willy focuses on the life and legacy of Keiko, the beloved orca who starred in the hit film Free Willy. Colin Baird, an orca trainer and expert cast member in the documentary, who first worked with Tilikum and then Keiko, admits that when working with Keiko in Iceland “… there were days that he wouldn’t get in the water with him.” This may have been due perhaps to Keiko’s long period of captivity and Colin’s firsthand experience having had a co-trainer killed while working with Tilikum. To date, Keiko is the only captive orca to have been successfully rehabilitated and released from captivity. He was an unlikely candidate to succeed in such an effort because of his capture a very young age. Keiko thrived in his post-captivity period for more than five years, gaining over 3,000 pounds, mixing it up with wild orcas, and inspiring a generation of children around the world to get involved in an effort to free other killer whales from captivity.
It is our first hope that folks will watch Blackfish. Probably for the first time they will understand in a most graphic way the problems inherent in keeping these orcas captive. We believe that they will most certainly conclude that it is not only not worth the risk, but is just a wrong way for human beings to engage with these magnificent creatures. But then the question arises as what to do.
It is our second hope that folks will watch Keiko The Untold Story – The Star of Free Willy and finally learn the truth about the tremendous embrace of freedom that Keiko demonstrated during his incredible journey back to his home waters in Iceland and Norway where he thrived for five years. From the beginning of Keiko’s rehabilitation in 1995 to his death in the ocean in 2003 much was learned by the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, the organization charged with his release, about what works and what doesn’t, and what is required to rescue, rehabilitate, and release a captive orca to the wild or to retire one from a tank to a seapen, including the cost and fundraising necessary for such a task.
Currently there are forty-five captive killer whales worldwide. Some of them were captured from the ocean, others were born in captivity. With the goal of releasing these orcas, many divergent groups have formed, with each disparate group seeking the rescue, rehabilitation and release of an individual orca. For example there are now separate groups in several different countries seeking the release of Morgan, Lolita, Corky, Kshamenk and the now infamous Tilikum. The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, with its hands-on experience and knowledge, is well poised to act as a clearing house for these many groups seeking the release of captive orcas. We invite these groups to work with the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation.
Rescue, rehab and release can be done successfully and the marine park industry has the money to effect it (a billion and a half dollars a year). They just need the will and the voice of the public to proceed with all haste.
1. Currently there are forty six captive killer whales world wide. Some of them were captured from the ocean, others were born in captivity.
2. With the goal of releasing these orcas from captivity, many divergent groups have formed , with each disparate group seeking the rescue, rehabilitation and release of an individual orca. For example there are now separate groups in several different countries seeking the release of Morgan, Lolita, Corky, Tilikum, and Kshamenk.
3. We believe that these global efforts can be better funded and served using Keiko as an Ambassador. To date, Keiko is the only captive orca to have been rehabilitated and released from captivity. From the beginning of his rehabilitation in 1995 to his death in the ocean in 2003 much was learned about what works and what doesn’t, and what is required to rescue, rehabilitate and release an orca to the wild or to retire one from a tank to a seapen. Keiko’s story, with an emphasis on his rescue, rehabilitation and release, is captured in the documentary KEIKO THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE STAR OF FREE WILLY. This film is a must see for all interested in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of captive orcas.
4. The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation (FWKF) was established in 1994 to release to the wild Keiko, the most famous orca in the world. For the eight year period of Keiko’s release from captivity until his death, the FWKF orchestrated, planned and managed, Keiko’s care, rehabilitation and return to the wild. With this experience the FWKF knows better than any other organization the steps required for an orca’s release from captivity, not to mention the logistical support and funding required for such an endeavor.
5. With the recent release of BLACKFISH, by film maker Gabriela Cowperthwaite, which explores the killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau, by the orca Tilikum at SeaWorld, Orlando, Florida, and David Kirby’s book, Death at SeaWorld, the time is right for the highly profitable sea park industry to focus on the three Rs: RESCUE, REHABILIATE AND RELEASE.
6. With its vast experience and knowledge, and using Keiko as its ambassador, the FWKF is primed to serve as an umbrella organization and to be the central clearing house for the divergent and separate groups seeking the release of captive orcas. Towards this end, it would assist with fundraising for and distributing funds to the various groups, with coordinating policy statements and press releases in support of changing the sea park industry’s goals vis a vis orcas, and where possible, assist with legal challenges required for the release of captive orcas.
7 Visually and through firsthand accounts of those directly in charge of Keiko’s care, Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy documents how Keiko thrived in his post-captivity period for more than five years, mixed it up with wild orcas, and became the second longest lived male captive orca in history.
- During his rehabilitation process, Keiko became the most well-traveled orca in the world.
- Keiko was the largest package the UPS ever delivered.
- Keiko gained over 3000 lbs. during his rehabilitation at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
- Keiko was airlifted back home to Iceland by an Air Force Cargo Plane.
- Keiko became the only captive orca ever to be successfully rehabilitated and released back to his home waters in the North Atlantic, where he thrived for 5 years prior to his death.
- Keiko’s ordeal was the catalyst to Iceland permanently banning all orca captures, and the ban continues to this day.
- Keiko inspired millions of children to get involved in following his amazing odyssey and helping other whales.
- Keiko’s journey inspired a massive educational effort around the world and formed the basis for several scientific studies.
- New generations of children continue to watch Keiko’s movie Free Willy and become inspired by the whale who played the role of “Willy”.
- Keiko’s life story is being taught in schools around the world.
Keiko’s beloved fans are changing the world!
I just wanted to say a quick thank you to Movie Maven who did a great review! - We’re not yet sold out, and we’re closing down the online ticket sales tonight at midnight, so can you share this with someone? You’ll have to follow us at Facebook to see if there are tickets at the door., but why not get yours now?
(and if you see me there please say hello personally!)
It’s time for the press and public to take a new serious hard look at Keiko’s story. Following the release Blackfish, The New York Times addressed the issue of captivity of orcas in its article “Smart, Social and Erratic in Captivity”
In discussing alternatives to captivity, it cited the use of sea pens. Yet, it failed to mention Keiko and how sea pens were used in his rehabilitation and where it led. Keiko’s release from captivity is often cited by the media and marine park industry as a failed project and given as the reason other orcas should not be released. Factual errors regarding Keiko’s reintroduction into the wild abound, including media coverage to the effect that Keiko was attacked and killed by wild orcas, that Keiko was constantly supervised and fed and never was self-sufficient in the wild, and that Keiko lived less than a year after being freed. All of these statements are incorrect. In fact Keiko spent the last years of his life free from the confines of an ocean sea pen after navigating from Iceland to Norway on his own. Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy (http://www.keikotheuntoldstory.com) documents Keiko’s story with first hand accounts and is a must see for those seeking an end to captivity.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, with her film Blackfish, has thrown down the gauntlet against SeaWorld and all the other marine themed entertainment facilities who exhibit orcas and dolphins for amusement and financial gain. In detailing the real threat to trainers’ lives, and in telling the story of the brutal 2010 killing of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau by the orca Tilikum, she has galvanized SeaWorld to counter the economic threat it faces from a public discovering the very real effect captivity has these magnificent creatures.
Blackfish may well encourage the public to call for the rehab and release of these incredible mammals. It is my hope that with the release of my film, Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy, that everyone will take a new and serious hard look at the effort to release Keiko, the orca star of the Warner Bros. 1993 hit film Free Willy. Keiko is the only captive orca ever to have been rehabilitated and released back to the wild, and yet he was the most unlikely candidate to succeed in such an effort. All too often, Keiko’s release from captivity has been cited by the media and the marine park captive industry as a failed project and given as the reason other captive orcas should not be released. And that fact is precisely why I embarked on the monumental effort to tell Keiko’s yet untold story.
No one has ever told the story we’re telling. My documentary finally solves the mystery of what really happened during the last five years of Keiko’s extraordinary life. It is truly the first in-depth cinematic look at the life and legend of the Free Willy star. The question of whether or not the mission was successful continues to fuel the debate regarding the fate of the other 46 orcas still in captivity in the U.S., Argentina, Canada, France, Russia, Japan and Spain.
Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy presents never-before-seen footage of his life in the wild, along with exclusive accounts of his day-to-day existence by his last two caretakers, former Tilikum orca trainer Colin Baird, and Keiko’s North Atlantic companion Thorbjorg (Tobba) Valdis Kristjansdottir. I am blown away by the wonderful connections Keiko has brought into my life, through people who knew him, people who were inspired by him, and people who are coming to realize how important his journey was for all of us to understand. It is my hope that in the telling of his life and legacy, the prevailing corporate interests will have a change of heart and embark on a life-long effort to introduce the current orca and dolphin captives to the real 3 educational R’s: Rescue, Rehab, and Release.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary release of Free Willy, the movie that led to Keiko’s rehabilitation and return to the wild, the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation and the films production company, Joshua Records, LLC, will host the world-premiere screening of Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy, together with a showing of the original family classic, Free Willy, at Hollywood’s landmark Egyptian Theatre on Aug. 17. This gala event will bring many of the movers and shakers in current marine mammal protection efforts together with the Hollywood stars and production team from the 1993 summer blockbuster Free Willy.
The world premiere event for Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre on Aug. 17, 2013, is being sponsored by Earth Island Institute, Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, The Humane Society of the United States Hollywood Outreach, Heal the Bay, New Regency Enterprises, Warner Bros., and Joshua Records, LLC.
Kids are inspired by the Free Willy orca star Keiko, and ever since we started this project we have received countless letters from kids and parents all over the world.
We have invited one of those kids, now an adult, to join us on the Blue Carpet. Her name is Stephanie Shaw.
She, like so many others, has been fascinated by orca whales since first watching the movie Free Willy at the age of two. She grew up following and supporting Keiko’s rehabilitation and release while dreaming of becoming a marine mammal researcher herself.
We are proud to welcome Stephanie Shaw to the Blue Carpet Ceremony and the Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy Q&A panel as a representative of all those inspired to action by Free Willy and Keiko’s story.
This event will provide an opportunity to entertain and educate a new generation of kids to believe beyond their wildest dreams that they can make a difference in this world.
Sponsor a Youth to Attend
Because of all that has happened with ‘Keiko’s kids’, on August 17th, we are teaming with LAUSD’s Beyond the Bell Division and the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation to bring 200 students to the World Premier Screening of Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy and the 20th Anniversary screening of the hit film that started it all: Free Willy.
This ticket will pay for the child’s transportation to and from the event, their ticket to the films and ceremony, and for a meal at the event.
Sponsor a Youth for $30
It’s great to know that the message is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago!
Please join us now and sponsor one or more of these kids with a ticket to the event.