Subject: Keiko: Summary Report of Keiko Evaluation Panel (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Tue, 3 Feb 1998 14:25:21 -0500 (EST)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 31 Jan 1998 23:01:35 -0800
From: Aquarium Webmaster <>
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Subject: Summary Report of Keiko Evaluation Panel

Summary Report of Evaluation Panel
Convened to Assess the Health of Keiko
January 28, 1998

Panel Members:

Dr. James McBain, Sea World, Inc.
Dr. Al Smith, Oregon State University
Dr. Jeffery Stott, University of California at Davis
Dr. Joseph Geraci6 National Aquarium in Baltimore
Mr. Bud Krames, Dolphin Quest
Dr. Barbara Kohn, USDA, APHIS, AC - Facilitator

Other Contributors:

Dr. Isis Johnson, USDA, APHIS, AC
Dr. Randy Ridenour, USDA, APHIS, AC

This independent evaluation was done with the full backing and support of
the Free Willy Keiko Foundation. Foundation liaisons were Mr. Joseph
Gaskins, and Mr. Robert Ratliffe.

The Panel wishes to thank the staff at the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and
the Oregon Coast Aquarium for their cooperation with this evaluation. The
Panel was welcomed with open arms. We wish to thank Dr. Lanny Cornell for
his cooperation.

Keiko, a male killer whale, Orcinus orca, was transported to the United
States and housed at a newly built facility within the Oregon Coast Aquarium
(OCA) in January 1 1996. Since that time the animal has been under the care
of the OCA and the Free Willy Keiko Foundation (FWKF). Due to the history
and popularity of the whale, his health and well being have been subjected
to a high degree of public and media scrutiny. In August 1997, after a
change in personnel handling the day-to day care of Keiko and after
conflicting reports of his health status, APHIS was asked to facilitate the
formation of an independent panel of marine mammal experts who would assess
the current health status of Keiko. This panel was formed in October 1997
with the cooperation of the FWKF. The panel included veterinary experts,
including a virologist and immunologist, as well as two veterinary
clinicians, a behaviorist, and an APHIS representative as a facilitator. The
animal was evaluated by the panel members during December 1997 and January

Keiko is an approximately 18 year old killer whale whose living condition
and health concerns came to light when he was chosen to star in the movie,
Free Willy. At that time, Keiko resided in a facility in Mexico (Reino
Aventura), in which the pool was small and water quality was poor including
inappropriate temperature. Keiko has had no conspecific companionship since
he resided in Canada, but he did have dolphin companionship at Reino
Aventura. After several years of negotiations and attempts to move Keiko to
a more appropriate facility, arrangements were made to move him to the OCA
facility, which was leased by the FWKF. Keiko's health has been a constant
concern with the most visible problem being a viral (assumed) skin condition
which was visible even during the filming of the movie. The skin condition
did appear to improve after the transfer to the Oregon facility with its
improved water quality.

APHIS has, when deemed necessary, formed and/or overseen ad hoc panels that
dealt with specific allegations and concerns raised about regulated animals.
This process is not automatic, but is used when the nature and implications
of the situation warrants such measures. Due to the media focus and history
of this animal. APHIS agreed to help form and facilitate a Blue Ribbon panel
to assess the current health status of Keiko. The scope and sole mandate of
this panel is to examine Keiko's current health, not to comment on or infer
support or opposition to his releasability in The future. The panel was
formed to look at the current veterinary and behavioral issues, the current
facility status with respect to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and to provide
recommendations as appropriate


Keiko was examined by a marine mammal veterinarian and samples were obtained
for generally accepted routine medical testing, including a complete blood
count and chemistry profile. Additional blood and biopsy samples were
obtained to run room specialized testing to evaluate the immunological
status and viral exposure/response of the animal. Medical tests were carried
out at the panel member's own facilities utilizing currently accepted
methodologies for the respective analysis. Medical and training records were
reviewed as needed by panel members, and FWKF and OCA personnel were
interviewed when appropriate. Keiko's behavior was observed by several panel
members on two separate occasions during the veterinary examination and
sample collection in December 1997, and again during the course of 10
observation sessions in January 1998. Conference calls and one-on-one
communications were utilized by the panel to discuss and evaluate the
findings. During the tenure of the panel, APHIS inspectors conducted an
unannounced compliance inspection.

Results and Evaluation:

To gain the best picture of the health status of any animal, one should
monitor appropriate parameters over time, using repeated testing. This panel
was formed to evaluate a "snapshot" of Keiko's medical and behavioral
condition. To provide the best evaluation under these circumstances, the
panel relied on the medical and behavioral records of the animal, as well as
examinations and testing done in November 1997 through January 1998.

Based on clinical pathology results, there is a high probability that Keiko
developed a hepatopathy beginning in June 1997. The primary manifestation of
this event was a significantly elevated liver enzyme which did not return to
normal until December 1997. Keiko was treated with an antifungal drug for a
suspected lung infection during the latter period of enzyme elevation. This
complicated interpretation of the enzyme values since the antifungal agent
used is known to occasionally produce a transient elevation in liver
enzymes, which may persist over a long period of time. The return of the
liver enzymes to normal levels indicated that, in the very least, the
condition is in remission.

During his residency in Oregon, Keiko experienced a tooth fracture which
later required extraction. There have also been multiple episodes of
hematuria. Recent urinalyses demonstrate that hematuria is no longer
present. Dr. Lanny Cornell, attending veterinarian for the FWKF, indicated
that Keiko has a penile lesion which was the likely source of blood in the
urine. The lesion has healed. Observers have reported the occurrence of
behaviors described as "cramping" and "twitching." The Panel's veterinary
clinicians have not seen these behaviors, nor is any video available. As a
result their cause and significance cannot be determined. The behaviors have
been noted since Keiko's arrival in Oregon, and to date no disease condition
has been associated with them.

In late December 1997, a small skin lesion on the leading edge of the right
pectoral flipper was observed. It was approximately 1" in diameter and
visually appeared to be a papilloma. The lesion was biopsied, and although
cytopathology was evident on the first but not the second and third growth
passages, histology and initial cell culture tend to support the growth
being the result of a papilloma (wart) virus. This condition is known to
occur in wild and captive whales and is not considered a health challenge to
Keiko. Other skin lesions which have been observed on Keiko have been
examined and biopsied when appropriate (fresh lesions). Although such
lesions resembled possible viral skin lesions, no specific viral etiology
has been identified.

Blood (serum and buffy coats) samples were subjected to rigorous viral
isolation and/or viral antigen testing for 49 antigens, including 33
serotypes of caliciviruses (oceanic and nonoceanic), marine species virus
isolates of herpes virus, rotavirus-like virus, entorvirus-like virus,
retrovirus-like virus, and three adenoviruses, as well as other
miscellaneous viruses, including morbillivrius, parvovirus, and human
hepatitis virus, canine adanovirus, and LDH virus. Antibody testing for 48
to the 49 viruses is complete at this time. Antibody tests were negative,
and there were no viruses isolated.

Samples collected to evaluate the immunological status of Keiko revealed
that he has a low circulating B-lymphocyte count and a slightly elevated
total immunogloubulin level. Immunealactrophoresis of the serum proteins
indicated that there may be a missing isotype of IgG. However, the
significance of this finding is unknown. T-lymphocyte function appears to be
adequate in this animal.

Behavioral observations of Keiko indicate a variation in his behavior
patterns. In December 1997, he appeared "frustrated" and not content. In
January 1998, Keiko appeared calm, if bored. Both observers felt Keiko might
be feeling the effects of not having any control over his environment.
However, no stereotypic or destructive (typical neurotic behaviors such as
head butting or staring into the walls) swimming or other behaviors were

Keiko related well to his trainers, but it was felt that the response
thresholds for the training sessions were low, and Keiko's response to
stimuli, though not normal, was slow. The primary reinforcement tool
preferred by Keiko was tactile stimulation after a session. He does not
appear to be food driven in his interactions. Keiko was provided enrichment
devices and interacted with them randomly, especially enjoying the
high-powered water jets used for environmental enrichment.

Overall, Keiko appeared to have no behavioral problems that adversely
affected his health. Several panel members expressed concern that Keiko, may
not have a great deal of stamina and that even small body movements created
visible movement of skin. This apparent flaccidity of Keiko's body could
indicate insufficient muscle mass, lack of muscle tone, or recent changes in
weight. Keiko continues to gain weight and grown since his move to Oregon.

APHIS inspections, conducted by a 2-person team, showed the facility in
compliance with the AWA regulations and standards in July 1997 and December

Summary and Recommendations

There is no current indication that Keiko is ill. He showed no clinical
pathological evidence of chronic deep-seated infection during his residence
in Oregon. Immunological test results are apparently within known normal
parameters, and there was no evidence of recent viral challenges to 48
different viruses. Keiko appeared to be exhibiting no abnormal behavior
patterns. At the time of the study, Keiko was recovering from an illness
(probable hepatopathy) of several months' duration. The only known chronic
condition in evidence is probable papillomatosis. This snapshot analysis
must be viewed as that   a look at one point in time. Questions and concerns
about Keiko's long-term health status and options for his future need to be
studied over a much longer period of time. Given Keiko's past health history
and ongoing concerns and scrutiny of his health, the panel makes the
following recommendations:

1. Continue monitoring and follow-up testing to further establish a baseline
for Keiko's medical results and to provide reliable scientific documentation
of his overall health picture.
2. Given Keiko's past health history and potential future plans, a written
line of authority must be established, which assures that the husbandry and
medical programs are integrated in a way which places a single person in
ultimate authority. This will required commitment, cooperation, and
communication between the husbandry staff, water quality engineers and
operators, and veterinary care personnel.

3. Ancillary to "2" above, complete and useful medical, training, and
feeding records are necessary for any future evaluation of Keiko's health.
These records should be well organized and readable and provide an accurate
picture of all tests, treatments and responses.

4. Keiko appears to have flaccidity in his body, evidenced by highly movable
skin. This could bean insufficient muscle mass or lack of muscle tone. Keiko
should continue a program to improve his body tone and endurance. Such a
program should include, at least, a program of regular, increasing exercise,
and monitoring of weight and appetite

6 .Although Keiko's dependence on human interaction may facilitate handling
by the trainers, killer whales are social creatures and should be afforded
interactions with same or other compatible marine species. Section 3.109 of
the AWA regulations and standards requires such access. A companion animal
is recommended and should be a compatible cetacean or, if necessary,
pinniped species.

6. Any decision on the rehabilitation of Keiko should be made in concert
with an ongoing, long-term health study and evaluation. An expert panel
assembled by the responsible parties is recommended to oversee this task.

Steve Dickey
Aquarium Webmaster