Subject: Keiko-Re: saving and moving a whale

mike williamson (
Sat, 5 Sep 1998 07:06:45 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: saving and moving kaco the whale (fwd)

Posted at 07:25 a.m. PDT; Friday, September 4, 1998 

 Saying farewell to Keiko   

 by Jack Broom 
 Seattle Times staff reporter 

 NEWPORT, Ore. - Motel manager Ray Kammer has his morning chores down to a
routine: check out the departing guests, wash the windows, sweep the parking
lot and, of course, change the number on the Keiko sign. 

 For the past month, the readerboard at the Money Saver Motel on Highway 101
has counted down the days until the departure of Newport's largest - and
most famous - resident. 

 Today, the number drops to 5. 

 Keiko, five-ton star of the movie "Free Willy" and subject of worldwide
attention, affection and controversy, will be flown to Iceland Wednesday on
an Air Force cargo plane. 

 He faces an uncertain future. His handlers say they hope to release him
into the wild, but only if they're convinced he can handle it. 

 Until then, he'll live in a net pen in the sheltered bay of an island six
miles off the Icelandic coast, smelling and hearing his native ocean for the
first time in nearly two decades. 

 "We have no fixed timetable for release. Our goal is simply to do the best
we can with this animal, and to learn as much as we can in the process,"
said Jeff Foster, director of field operations and research for the Free
Willy Keiko Foundation, which owns the whale. 

 Logistics of the trip are daunting. Keiko will be lifted in a nylon sling,
placed in a steel-and-fiberglass box and loaded on a flatbed United Parcel
Service truck for a 3.5-mile ride to the Newport Municipal Airport. 

 The box will be transferred to a C-17 cargo aircraft for an 8 1/2-hour
flight in which ice will be regularly added to Keiko's water to keep it
cool. Keiko's 10 trainers will accompany him on the flight, which is being
paid for by the foundation and used by the Air Force as a training exercise. 

 Two in-flight refuelings are planned so the C-17 can make the trip in the
shortest possible time. Once in Iceland, Keiko's box will be placed on
another truck and taken to a barge, which will carry him to his new pen. 

 As the countdown to Keiko's departure reaches its final stages, the
attention surrounding his move is growing to a crescendo: 

 -- More than 4,000 Keiko pictures drawn by schoolchildren across the
country have arrived at the Oregon Coast Aquarium and are being threaded
into a giant paper quilt to be sent to Iceland with Keiko. 

 -- Attendance at the exhibit, which had been tapering off this year, has
jumped as thousands of visitors each day stream into the aquarium for a
lingering goodbye, a silent tear or a last admiring gaze at the shiny
black-and-white celebrity. 

 -- A Keiko home page operated by the aquarium, one of several Keiko sites
on the Web, is recording up to 3,000 hits an hour. 

 -- Newport residents and visitors are buying up items to help them remember
the whale - Keiko T-shirts, posters, amulets, pencils and cans of Keiko root

 -- Businesses in this coastal town, which saw their busiest year in 1996
when Keiko arrived, are bracing for an expected decline. 

 -- Air Force officials and Keiko's handlers are considering every
contingency for the trip, and making arrangements for an emergency stop
should Keiko develop problems on the flight. 

 -- Media attention has been almost nonstop; more than 500 journalists have
applied for credentials to cover the whale's journey. 

 The whale has even attracted the attention of a self-described "animal
communicator" who says she has had extensive conversations with Keiko. He
told her he doesn't want to leave Newport. 

 Emotions have been mixed among people pressing close to the windows in
Keiko's tank this week, including many making their first and only
pilgrimage to the whale's Oregon home. 

 "My kids have worn out their tape of the movie, and we decided we should
see the real thing before he goes," said Katherine Dragoo of Portland,
visiting with her husband and three children, ranging in age from 2 to 9. 

 While the depth of Keiko's ability to charm and fascinate may be difficult
for adults to explain, 10-year-old Naomi Krieck offered this assessment:
"He's just so cool." 

 Naomi, who traveled from the Portland area with her parents and 7-year-old
brother, had already decided she wants to be a marine biologist and has
filled her room with posters and statues of dolphins and whales. 

 "My first thought when I heard they would set him free was he won't make
it," she said. "But then I heard they were just moving him to a bigger pen
for now; I thought that sounds better." 

 Adults with decades' more experience studying marine mammals have
observations and concerns similar to Naomi's. 

 No killer whale has ever been released after spending this long - nearly
his entire life - in captivity. Biologists, environmentalists, animal lovers
and aquarium directors are watching every move. 

 Opinions on when Keiko should be released run the widest possible
continuum, from immediately to never. Officials at other marine parks worry
that freeing Keiko will increase pressure to free other killer whales. 

 "My suggestion has been to get him a mate and keep him happy where he is,"
said Brad Andrews of Sea World, which has 20 orcas at its four parks. "The
bottom line is we don't feel an animal that's been in the care of humans for
that length of time is a good candidate for release." 

 Andrews said harm could come not just to Keiko, but other marine life. He
fears a virus that caused skin lesions on Keiko could spread to other
whales, possibly even while Keiko remains in the Iceland pen. 

 Foster, however, said extensive tests have shown Keiko is in good health,
and that the foundation will take all possible precautions. "We're not going
to do anything to endanger his health or the environment." 

 For most of the public, what distinguishes Keiko from other killer whales
in captivity can be boiled down to two words: "Free Willy." 

 Or as Los Angeles fifth-grader Luis Suarez said in a letter to Keiko, "I'm
going to be sad you're leaving. You are a good star in the movies." 

 Released in 1993, "Free Willy" was the heartwarming tale of a whale that
found his freedom from a greedy marine-circus owner with the help of a young

 The actor who played that boy, Jason James Richter, was among Keiko's
visitors this week, sharing a quiet moment with his close friend. 

 But while "Willy" went free in the movie, Keiko remained captive in a
cramped pool in a Mexico City park, where the water temperature climbed to
80 degrees and a virus caused the lesions on his skin. 

 Suggestions poured in from around the world to free the real "Willy." In
1995, the foundation was formed, its initial support from Warner Bros. and
New Regency Productions, the movie's producers, and from the McCaw Foundation. 

 Keiko has become a pet cause of Seattle's Craig McCaw, founder of McCaw
Cellular, which was sold to AT&T in 1994 for $11.5 billion. 

 "It just seemed wrong to me that a story was told with an uplifting end for
kids that wasn't true," McCaw said. 

 About six months ago, he actually swam with Keiko. "The experience was a
high point of my life," he said. "Being with a creature so powerful and
smart is just amazing." 

 It would be impossible for the foundation to escape criticism, according to
Foster, because some animal-rights activists demand that Keiko be freed now,
while some marine-park operators doubt he can ever live in the wild again. 

 "We're in the middle, so we're getting it from both sides," he said. 

 Foster sees the "Free Willy" movie as a two-edged sword. On one hand, he
believes it saved Keiko's life. If Keiko hadn't been a movie star with an
international following, it's unlikely any aquarium would have wanted to
take him off the hands of the park in Mexico. 

 "He was in as bad a shape as I've ever seen a marine mammal," Foster said. 

 On the other hand, the film planted some unrealistic expectations in the
public's mind. "In the movie, it was as easy as jumping over a breakwater
and swimming into the sunset. In real life, it's not that simple." 

 For example, since Keiko had been fed frozen fish all his life, he had to
gradually be taught that he'd have to chase down live fish for his supper. 

 Foster said the foundation plans keep trainers with Keiko indefinitely,
with each trainer spending 42 days on duty, then 28 off.

 Keiko was born in North Atlantic waters in 1977 or 1978 and was captured in
1979. When Keiko is placed back in the waters, he will likely hear the
sounds of other whales; three pods are known to visit the bay in which he'll
be located. 

 Foster acknowledges there are many unknowns and says the foundation will go
a step at a time. 

 For Newport, the unknown is what life without Keiko will bring. 

 The whale's impact on the aquarium was dramatic. Attendance was 600,000 in
1995 and jumped to 1.3 million with Keiko's arrival the following year. 

 Phyllis Bell, aquarium director, said the aquarium isn't just going to rely
on its jellyfish, otters, leopard sharks and Pacific spiney lumpsuckers to
keep the visitors coming. 

 Instead, it plans to spend $5.4 million on four new exhibits over the next
18 months. 

 In one, people will walk through a transparent tube that takes them into
three separate marine environments, amid eels, octopuses, sharks, turtles,
tuna, skates and rays. 

 The whale's departure is likely to mean fewer guests at area motels, such
as the one where Kammer keeps the Keiko countdown. 

 "I'd say 70 percent of our people have come to see the whale, or at least
see it while they're here," Kammer said. "I couldn't guess how many times
I've given directions to the aquarium." 

 At the local chamber of commerce, Director Lisa Noah doesn't see a dire
future, noting that "Keiko's only been here since 1996, and Newport's been a
vacation destination since the 1800s." 

 She predicts that after a slight decline, business may bounce back, partly
because many more people know about Newport now - thanks to Keiko. "We've
had media here from all over the world," she said. "We couldn't have bought
that kind of publicity." Jack Broom's phone message number is 206-464-2222.
His e-mail address is: Seattle Times staff reporter
Marc Ramirez contributed to this report. 

Posted at 06:45 a.m. PDT; Friday, September 4, 1998 

 Keiko by the numbers 

 by Seattle Times staff 

 Tab for Keiko's rehabilitation: $12 million 

 Cost of Iceland move and pen: $3 million 

 Visitors to Oregon aquarium since Keiko arrived: 2,537,000 

 Hits last month to "Keiko cam" on Web: 741,000 

 Pounds a C-17 can carry: 172,000 

 Pounds Keiko, equipment and crew weigh: 60,000 

 Pounds Keiko weighs (est.): 10,000 

 Pounds Keiko weighed on arrival at Newport: 7,720 

 Miles Keiko will fly to Iceland: 5,340 

 Pounds of ice to cool Keiko during flight: 1,500 

 Journalists covering Keiko's trip: 546 

 Percentage aquarium attendance rose in Keiko's first year:

 Cost of Keiko fleece sweat shirt at aquarium gift shop:

 Number of Keiko's teeth (one removed last year): 43 

 Keiko's length in feet: 21 

 Keiko's age: 20 

 Trainers traveling to Iceland: 10 

 Hours Keiko's flight to Iceland will take: 8.5 

 Miles Keiko will be trucked to airport: 3.5 

 "Free Willy" movies made: 3 

 Movies Keiko was in (animated and mechanical whales were
 used in sequels): 1 

 Cost of can of Keiko Root Beer at Newport Wal-Mart: 50

 Whales previously airlifted by U.S. Air Force: 0

Posted at 06:35 a.m. PDT; Friday, September 4, 1998 

 Namu was first killer whale put on
 public display 

 by Jack Broom 
 Seattle Times staff reporter 

 Oregon's Keiko is in the spotlight now, but more than a decade
 before the "Free Willy" star was born, Seattle's Namu first brought
 public attention to the wonders - and controversy - of putting a
 captive killer whale on display. 

 In 1965, Canadian commercial fishermen contacted the Seattle
 Marine Aquarium with an offer: They had accidentally trapped a
 killer whale in their nets and would sell it for $8,000. 

 Aquarium Director Ted Griffin accepted the offer and named the
 whale Namu, meaning "many winds." 

 Its 400-mile journey to Seattle in a floating pen was front-page
 news. Crowds flocked to Pier 56 to watch Griffin ride the whale
 and to see Namu jump on command. 

 But controversy quickly erupted. Word that Griffin intended to
 capture more whales prompted concern that he would be breaking
 up whale families. Some activists threatened to cut Namu's pen to
 free him. 

 When two female whales died during Griffin's efforts to catch a
 mate for Namu, the incidents strengthened opposition to whale

 A city still sorting out its feelings on the issue was shocked by the
 news in July 1966 that Namu had drowned, entangled in the netting
 of its pen. An autopsy showed an infection likely contributed to the
 whale's disorientation and demise. 

 Though Namu, like Keiko, also starred in a movie, "Namu, the
 Killer Whale" did not get the attention "Free Willy" did, nor did it
 trigger a campaign to send its star back into the wild. The film
 premiered in Seattle three weeks after Namu's death.

Howard Garrett
Tokitae Foundation
(305) 672-4039

For more on Lolita, see the Lolita Come Home web site:

Review of the Releasability of Long Term Captive Orcas is at: