Case Study: Keiko - a blown opportunity (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 19 Jan 1996 14:10:42

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From: Michael Williamson <>
Subject: Case Study: Keiko - a blown opportunity (fwd)
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Date: Mon, 15 Jan 1996 18:53:34 EST
From: Timothy Desmond <>
I've monitored a lot of the debate over the relative merit of spending $10.5
million on a sick, but famous killer whale who is a terrible candidate for
release by any reasonable measure.  I've said nothing to this point, because
saying anything critical of the save Keiko effort  before the funds were in
place and Keiko was moved would have jeopardized Keiko's rescue.  However,
that's done now.  I agree with many of the scientists that $10.5 for the rescue
of Keiko and his placement at the Oregon facility was a terribly misguided bit
of conservation and/or animal welfare activism.  The money could and should have
been put to much better use.
What is so sad about this episode is that  3 years ago  the people involved,
Earth Island and the Donners, had the option to develop a home for Keiko in Cape
Cod that would have doubled as a critical care facility for the hundreds of
stranded marine mammals that strand every year on the northeast coast of North
America.  It would have also served as a general marine research facility
serving the local region.
This proposal won the support of  the local community at the proposed site,
local government officials, federal officals,  several universities, aquariums,
several moderate animal welfare organizations, and many potential private
donors.  It was fundable, according to the professional fund raisers that Warner
Bros. hired, at about the same cost and able to be done in far less time.
However,  the animal welfare activists couldn't stand not having complete
control over the political agenda and the money.  A group of animal welfare
activist organizations conducted a coordinated attack on that center and killed
it.  Their primary argument  was that it was a display facility and that Keiko
would do shows.   There were no facilities for entertainment in the design, only
a unique combination of  pools capable of taking care of  large numbers of
stranded cetaceans at one time.   I know this because I was hired to develop
this plan for Warner Bros. and the Donners.
So now, Keiko goes to guess what? A captive display facility - where there are
very few cetaceans strandings.  Many, many marine mammals will die because of
the lack of that critical care facility while Earth Island will float the
illusion of releasing Keiko as a long standing fund raising mechanism for their
agenda.  Right now, the marine display institutions have stopped accepting
stranded marine mammals in many locations due to the threat of the
morbillivirus.  So effectively there are even less facilities available for
stranded marine mammals.  What an opportunity lost!  And why?  Ask Dave
There are few if any cetaceans in captivity today that are anything approching
decent candidates for release.  Howver, many of these animals could do very well
in "half way houses" where they could still have good care but have access to
the open ocean daily -  that is realistically the best of both worlds. But. that
doesn't fit the agenda of Earth Island, HSUS  and others who will clamor for the
release of as many animals as they can to fulfill a political agenda that may be
well intentioned but is ultimately misguided.   By the way, this new pool for
Keiko has no access to the ocean.  So, that precludes the option of a halfway
house without construction of a whole new set of facilities - whoops more
fundraising for Earth Island Institute.
The bottom line is that some activist organizations have reached the point where
they will start killing more animals than they are saving.  In this case,
hundreds of nameless whales and dolphins will die on the shores of New England
over the next several years because the $10 million to save Keiko was not made
available to them at the same time.
Frankly, I believe that we need strong animal welfare activist involvement in
marine mammal issues.  However, they have the same obligation as any aquarium to
make sure that, if they say that their mission is to protect the welfare of
animals,  they don't compromise the welfare of those animals to meet their
political, philosophical, and fundraising objectives.  In the case of  Earth
Island Institute, I think that this is as clear a case as there has ever been of
such a conflict of interest.
Tim Desmond