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KeikoODE to Keiko by Alan Godley



We've 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 word "NO".
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 breath.
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 Alliance

 

 

Free Corky!

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.

The Free 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!"

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