ODE to Keiko by Alan Godley
lost a close friend.
He was incredibly patient with us
and has been one our best teachers, a
real gift. Most people that work with marine mammals say that in
a normal training week, there is only one day of actual "teaching"
tricks and after that, we are the ones learning from them.
From the very first day, Keiko
started opening peoples minds and
hearts. He became the bridge that needed to be built, not just in
the being taken from the wild to captivity, but also the journey back
from captivity to the wild. Along the way, he allowed us a
glimpse into his very being and taught us who he really was. He
helped us to understand a whole species that had been presented to us
as "fierce killers" when, in fact, violence to one another in their
culture is virtually unknown. Since, we have been enlightened to
the fact that Orcas offer Humans no threat, wild or otherwise. In
reality, they come from a matrilineal society that is one of nurturing
in cocreation. This, of coarse, is in direct contrast to what
Hollywood and history books had presented us with thus far, until the
eye-opening release of Free
Willy in 1992.
The Aquarium industry had all the
years of his captive life to do
something about finding him a home, a healthy environment for him to
live in as opposed to the VERY POOR conditions he was languishing in,
causing him physical malaties and mental depression. Had he been
left there, in his sub-standard captivity in Mexico, it would have
surely meant his demise.
It wasn't until five plans were
presented to Reino Aventura Park, the one
chosen being that of Earth Island Institute, that Keiko was on his way
to freedom and opening an entire new chapter to what the public
percieved as captivity. For once, the human species had a chance
to feel and understand the bigger picture of what a two year old
nursing baby has to go through when stolen from Mother's protective
care, with the possibility of never being together again.
What I really see when I think
of Free Willy and want to remember,
are the countless classrooms where, when I asked "How many kids here
have seen a dolphin at the beach?" - those related to surfing went up,
that number generally under 10. When I asked "How many here have
been whale-watching?" the number of hands increased to 12-15.
When asked "How many here have been to a Sea World?", the number of
hands jumped then to about 25. I remember vividly when the 60
kids were asked "How many have seen Free
Willy?" - 55 out of 60
llittle hands went up in
excitement. It wasn't until they realized that they had been lied
to, that the "movie star", the character Willy was the only one that
was free, and that the real-life Keiko's days were numbered, that a
chain reaction began. This is great example of the power of a
mere idea. The kids had two things going for them, one - the fact
that their idealism is so great that the thought that they could fail
never occurred to them, and two - they don't know the meaning of the
That winning combination is what
caused 1,000,000 kids
to contact Keiko's home in Mexico, asking them to let Keiko go to the
Oregon Coast Aquarium. Now, at the time there wasn't even a tank
big enough for him, but it was the momentum that built one 5 times
bigger than the one he was leaving. So, with a special Thanx to UPS for
flying Keiko up to Oregon, began a 2 year stay that was one of the
greatest learning experiences for both Us and Him. This, then,
led to his flight via USAirforce jet to Westland Islands in
Iceland. First he was kept in a floating sea pen, then released
into a large bay / fjord with a gate. Finally, Keiko took the
largest "Whale Walk" of his life, an 870 mile swim to Norway.
Upon arriving, he was still friendly with humans and even let a young
boy ride him. After many friendly encounters with fishermen and
the public, it was decided that Keiko be moved to a quieter bay away
from people to protect his health, a cetaceans are susceptible to
respitory infections among other human afflictions (another example of
our similarities). Unfortunately, this measure was taken a little too
late for our friend, as it was found that he died of pneumonia.
Interestingly, we found that Keiko
had not lost any of his 1000lbs he
had gained upon leaving Mexico and that, according to his monitoring
equipment, he was deep-diving (which indicates self-feeding) on his
vacation to Norway. This is important because it is always a concern
when returning a captive animal to the wild.
What Keiko really did was capture
us, just the opposite of what we
thought was happening. He captured our hearts and minds and
deeply implanted, in kids and adults alike, not just what "Willy" was
about, but that he had skillfully become an ambassador. He has allowed
me the great opprotunity to feed the huge curiosity of how dolphins
communicate, how they herd, fish and hunt together, and most
importantly, how they naturally stay together from first breath to last
Therefore, we feel that the kids
who sacraficed their junk-food money,
had bake sales, and sold t-shirts, were not let down. What they
gave Keiko was an extra 3 years of his life spent in the wild, where he
came from, and sometimes with other whales. This he never would
never have enjoyed if he had been left behind and forgotten.
December 2003 - Blue Dolphin
The wind came
up early and blew hard at Marina Green along San Francisco Bay May 22,
as members of the Free Corky Banner Caravan laid out the world's
longest banner, more than a mile long. It was make of patches, mostly
by kids, supporting freedom for Corky, one of the orcas that plays
"Shamu" at Sea World in San DIego. Thursdays Child, the famous
60-foot ocean racer newly acquired and refitted by skipper Michael
Reppy in association with Earth Island Institute's International Marine
Mammal Project, sailed by in support of Corky. The blustery weather
kept the crowd down, but orca researcher Paul Spong, Earth Island's
Mark Berman, and Suzanne Roy of In Defense of Animals made speeches.
Country Joe McDonald sang whale and freedom songs.
Corky caravan, a funky old "whale painted" bus, is carrying the banner
of Orca Lab, Paul Spong's orca research facility in Johnston Straits,
British Columbia, where Corky's mohter and pod return every year.
Corky, captured at four years old, is the longes-held iving orca in
captivity (30 years). Her seven babies, born in captivity, all died
within a few months of birth. She has performed thousands of shows. Has
she not given enough? Doesn't she deserve to be retired and reunited
with her family? Corky has proven to be very strong, but how much
longer can she last? Keiko's success in rehabilitation in Iceland is
proving that orcas can make the transition back to the ocean
environment. Corky could be taken to a netted "half-way house" near
Orca Lab, then release to her family when ready. Her fate restes in the
hands of Anheuser-Busch, the owners of Sea World. We appeal to them: Please
give Corky a chance for freedom!
What can you
do: write August Busch c/o Anheiser-Busch, 1 Busch Plaza, St Louis, MO
63118, or phone at 314.577.3176. Or, visit their web site message
page. Tell them "Bud is out until Corky's out!"