THE FREE WILLY KEIKO FOUNDATION AND EARTH ISLAND INSTITUTE DISPUTE CLAIMS IN PBS NEWS HOUR STORY ABOUT DEATH OF KEIKO THE WHALE
Recent story claims that the “Free Willy” star died alone after a year of freedom while facts show he survived for five years following his release BERKELEY, CA…February 2, 2015 –
A recent story on the PBS News Hour program about the proposed release of Lolita “the loneliest orca in the world” back into the wild reported by Hari Sreenivasan incorrectly asserted that Keiko, the famed orca who inspired the film “Free Willy,” died alone in 2003 a mere year after being released.
This inaccuracy has greatly upset the Keiko team of trainers, doctors and supporters from the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and other orca welfare organizations, as it implies that the successful relocation of Keiko was a failure and that a similar fate will await any orca who is returned to the wild seas. Keiko’s story was made into a successful documentary “Keiko the Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy” by director Theresa Demarest in 2013.
Mark Berman. Associate Director, Free Willy Keiko Foundation, International Marine Mammal Project and Director, Dolphin Safe Tuna Monitoring Program of the Earth Island Institute says that they have approached PBS for a retraction or on-air correction but to date, they have not admitted to the discrepancy in the facts.
Says Berman, “There is documentation showing that Keiko lived free over a five year period from 1998 to 2003. PBS has so far refused to retract the statement made in the news segment.”
“There was a team of scientists, doctors and others who closely monitored Keiko over a four year period during which he had free rein to come and go as he pleased. He eventually succumbed to pneumonia due to a physical weakness that was not unusual in a whale of his age. Keiko was 27 years old when he died, making him one of the oldest male orcas in captivity at that time.
It hurts everyone in the aquatic mammal rescue/rehabilitation movement, as well as fans of Keiko and Lolita, when it is implied that all efforts to relocate them happily are fruitless. Yes, Keiko died, but all animals die and they deserve a quality of life just as humans do. So we struggle constantly to educate the public about the actions we take on behalf of orcas everywhere. For PBS to ignore the misinformation by one of their reporters once it is pointed out is very mystifying.”
Paul Spong, Co-director of OrcaLab, normally a fan of PBS, takes the network to task: “The slant you took was failure. Keiko was a great success. He swam across the Atlantic Ocean and fed himself, arriving in Norway in perfect condition. Remarkable! The unfortunate thing that happened when he arrived in Norway was that people immediately recognized him as the orca star of “Free Willy” and because Keiko loved people as much as they loved him, he was unable escape their attention. Ultimately, Keiko’s death was caused by a common infection unrelated to his journey to freedom. It was a sad ending, but at the same time I celebrate the fact that he died free, rather than sinking to the bottom of a concrete tank, as would certainly have been his fate if he had remained in captivity.”
Adds filmmaker Demarest, “We would be delighted to have Gwen Iffel and Judy Woodruff not only watch the film Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy in order to get their facts straight; but to also state a brief correction on an upcoming newscast about the dates surrounding Keiko’s last five years of life. We hope that they will take steps to make it happen very soon.”
Film website: www.keikotheuntoldstory.com
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Documentary Keiko the Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy
Acquired by Discovery Channel for Europe, Latin America and the Middle East
December 15, 2014……Discovery Channel UK and Joshua Records, LLC have inked a deal on Theresa Demarest’s award-winning documentary film Keiko the Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy. The pan-territory deal includes Latin America, the Middle East and Europe. Joshua Records was represented by Ilyssa Goodman.
The film documents the life and true story of Keiko, star of the Free Willy franchise, the only orca ever released from captivity into the wild. Among the experts in the film are: Mark Berman, of the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation; Naomi Rose, former Senior Marine Biologist for The Humane Society of the United States; Paul Spong of OrcaLab, and Keiko’s last real-life caretakers Colin Baird and biologist Thorbjorg (Tobba) Valdis Kristjansdottir.
According to filmmaker Demarest, “Our entire KeikoDoc crew is proud to be teaming with Discovery Channel UK for the release of our documentary. Audiences all over the world will now be able to experience Keiko’s incredible untold story. I was often told that ‘this film couldn’t be made and even if someone did it, no one would care.’ Thanks to the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, I knew a part of Keiko’s story that the majority of the public did not know and that’s what kept me going.”
“Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy is continuing Keiko’s legacy for millions of people in a new generation,” says Berman. “This important documentary expands into why orcas must be free with their families, not subjects of human commerce and entertainment.” The Free Willy Keiko Foundation led the charge in getting Keiko released from captivity in 1994 and continues its efforts for other captive whales today, under the leadership of Dave Phillips and Mark Berman.
For more information about the filmmakers, please contact Deborah Gilels at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 818-758-6509.
For more information about the film: www.keikotheuntoldstory.com
For more information about the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and how to help the cause please go to: http://keiko.com/
“Keiko the Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy gives dignity and insight into the journey of the world’s most famous orca. Keiko is an ambassador of freedom to all marine animals in captivity.”
– Jennie Lew Tugend, Producer, Free Willy
The Award Winning Documentary, Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy, is now available for educational streaming
The Award Winning Documentary, Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy, is now available for educational streaming to classrooms with Core Curriculum, and for Public community screening licensing to colleges, schools K-12, Public Libraries, Non-Profits and Government, and Public Libraries, throughout the USA and Canada through our educational Distributor Collective Eye Films.
The millions of Keiko fans around the world finally learn the truth about what really happened when the “Free Willy” star became the first and only captive orca to be released back into the wild.
Mark Berman, Assistant Director of the Free Willy Keiko Foundation:
“ This had never been done before, there was no textbook, no manual on how to do this, so we just did it based on what Keiko wanted to do. We gave him a chance that no other captive orca’s ever had to go home to his family, to the sea, to feel the tides, the natural beauty of his home country. “
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. BlackFish brought unprecidented attention to the plight of marine mammal captivity. The Award Winning Documentary Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy shines an even brighter light on the steps toward a win win solution.
Misunderstandings about Keiko’s behavior in the wild and factual errors regarding his reintroduction effort have distorted the truth about what actually happened with this historic rehabilitation and reintroduction effort. And yet the successes that Keiko accomplished are paramount in the dicussions as to how best to engage with the problems associated with marine mammal captivity in today’s world.
- Visually and through first hand accounts by 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.
- It is our mission to educate the public and set the record straight regarding the only captive orca to be released back to the wild as told by those directly charge with his care.
- Utilizing the successes realized in Keiko’s release effort, it is our goal to encourage the public to assist in efforts to end marine mammal captivity and performance-based entertainment for all killer whales, and to begin a rescue rehab and release program that would retire all captive killer whales to sea pens when available and eventual release back to the wild whenever possible.
We invite you to watch this important film, discover the truth about what actually happened with the only captive orca to be released back to home waters in the North Atlantic. It’s so important and all too easy.
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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!