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SeaWorld’s Double Standard Stirs Controversy

April 1, 2011

Keiko: The only long term captive orca to ever be released back into the wild did thrive despite captive industry claims.

Keiko – Courtesy Free-Willy/Keiko Foundation

For 6 years Keiko lived outside of the concrete jungle and he thrived. Keiko gained weight, re-learned his hunting skills and built his strength up enough to travel the oceans. Keiko died FREE. His story is one of success, even though the captive industry claims being free killed Keiko. Marine parks use Keiko’s death as an excuse to not attempt release/retirement programs for their captive orcas. This is unacceptable to us and it should also be to the majority of people.

Little does SeaWorld disclose to the public about captive orcas dying in the parks.

Orcas die all the time in captivity, yet this has not persuaded the captive industry to stop keeping them in captivity. Instead marine parks use the excuse that ONE captive released orca died 6 years after his release so all captive orcas are unreleasable. Any person using even half of their brain can see this is just not correct.

In actuality captive orca deaths have inspired the captive industry to breed more orcas to take the place of the orcas that die at their hands. You do not hear marine parks screaming that captivity kills orcas so they should not be kept in captivity. To use Keiko as an excuse to not attempt release/retirement programs is a double standard that the captive industry wishes to try to brainwash the public into “believing”.

Ask yourself how many orcas have died within 6 years of being placed or born into captivity. If you do not know the answer than you should not be debating these matters with those that do know. I can tell you this, more than one orca has died within the first 6 years of living in captivity. Ninety-seven out of 156 orcas that have died in captivity did not survive longer than 6 years….more than 62%.

Wanda 2 days, Moby Doll  3 months, Namu  1 year, Shamu  6 years, Katy  3 months, Orky  2 years, Lupa  7 months, Bonnie  4 months, Natsidalia  7 months, Corky 2 1/2 years, Tula 3 months, Ahad 5 1/2 years, Cuddles 5 1/2 years, Mamuk 5 1/2 years, Ramu2 1 year, Calypso 1 year, Patches 1 1/2 years, Kenny 1 1/2 years, Scarredjaw Cow 2 months, Chimo 2 1/2 years, Lil Nootka 7 months, Ramu4 1 year, Wally 1 year, Clovis 2 1/2 years, Chappy 3 1/2 years, Jumbo 4 years, Kandu3 4 years, Kona 6 years, Canuck 2 1/2 years, Zero 15 days, Sandy 4 1/2 years, Kandy 3 months, Frankie 5 months, Nootka2 9 months, Nootka3 9 months, Kim 5 1/2 years, Baby 18 days, Miracle 4 1/2 years, Magnus 2 months, Canuck2 4 years, no name 4 months, Spooky 11 days, no name 5 months, no name 5 days, no name 1 month, no name 2 months, Chi 4 months, Tai 3 years, Surfer Girl 9 days, Dzul-ha 4 years, no name 3 months, King 4 years, Benkei2 2 1/2 years, no name 2 months, Neptune 1 1/2 years, Nemo 5 years, no name 4 months, Benkei3 1 1/2 years, Sacchi 2 years, no name 10 days, Kiva 48 days, no name 8 months, Nandu 4 1/2 years, no name 2 months, Freyja 3 years, no name 1 months, Milagro 5 1/2 years, Baby Shamu 11 days, no name 2 months, Shachi 2 years, Prince 4 years, no name 22 days, Ai 6 years, Kyosha 96 days, no name 33 days, no name 62 days, no name 1 day, Nyar 2 1/2 years, Kanuck 4 years, no name 38 days, no name 1 day, no name 1 day, Malik 4 years, Nova 4 1/2 years, no name 4 months, no name 4 months, no name 11 days, Hudson 6 years, Algonquin 2 1/2 years, Sarah 3 years, no name 28 days, April 1 month, Athena 4 1/2 years, no name 2 days, Halyn 2 1/2 years, no name 3 days, Pascuala 2 months

The captive industry’s stance regarding the release of Keiko is degrading to the orca species as a whole. Marine parks relay to the public about how intelligent orcas are, yet when it comes to Keiko and current captive orcas, this is not the case. Despite evidence of Keiko thriving, the captive industry claims he just died, he was killed because he could not make it. Keiko made it. Keiko disproved all the claims marine parks make about releasing/retiring captive orcas.  This is why they take such a terrible stance against Keiko’s release.

Marine parks have proven that some orcas have the ability to adapt.  After all, their orca “collections” originally came from the wild. They have adapted to eating dead fish that is an unnatural food source for them. They have gone from swimming many miles a day to surface floating, hunting and catching birds, socially interacting with humans and even interacting and breeding with other subspecies which would never occur in the wild. If these orcas can learn to adapt to these conditions, why is it so easy for marine parks to state they could never learn to adapt to their natural state of living in the oceans? Which is it?

Many will claim “captive orcas would never survive in the wild”. The thing is Orcas have not been in captivity long enough to breed out their natural instincts. Rather they were born in captivity or not, they still have DNA encoded deep within them to ensure their survival here on Earth. SeaWorld claims to have the most extensive knowledge of orcas on the planet, yet SeaWorld does not have more knowledge and experience than Mother Nature or God or who ever you wish to give credit for creating orcas. To take such a God like stance is very arrogant on SeaWorld’s part. They do not have the ability to just magically remove certain DNA and replace it with other DNA regarding these orcas. This arrogance is displayed to the public constantly….every time they claim their orcas are “happy”, not stressed and doing very well is another one of those God like stances they take, as orcas in the wild do get stressed, they express an entire range of emotions, and sometimes do not do so well. Mother Nature, God or who ever you would like to give credit to creating orcas does not hide this from us so why does SeaWorld hide it from us?

The truth and words we share…they offer us personally nothing, except future existence of our planet for other generations to come. We have no vested interest in seeing captive orcas have better lives or more orcas being born in the wild. For every captive born orca, one orca is not born into the wild. Our time is all donated, many times we do not even personally gain credit for our work, as we do not publish using our names, our work goes unsigned. Our drive comes from inner passion and understanding that captivity can never meet the needs of many animals and they are suffering needlessly.

Seaworld…. well they do have a vested interest in keeping you “believing” their words are above God’s and natures words. They have shareholders and business partners that they have to keep happy. The dollars must continue to flow or trouble begins to trickle down. SeaWorld has to prove to the government certain things to continue to receive grant money which they use for actual conservation efforts because they have to. SeaWorld is a business and the orcas are assets.

I was raised to be leery of deceitful individuals with vested interests. I was raised to know… no good could come from these types of individuals and I am not buying it! We demand an end to captive orca and dolphin breeding TODAY and everyday forward until it ends. We support nature not captivity for orcas and dolphins.

Timeline of Keiko’s Life

Keiko – Courtesy of Free Willy/Keiko Foundation

Keiko was born in 1977 or 1978 in the Atlantic Ocean near Iceland. He was torn from his family at the age of 2, when he was captured by a fishing boat. Marineland in Ontario, Canada bought him in 1982 where he became a performing animal.

In 1985 Marineland sold Keiko to Reino Aventura, an amusement park in Mexico City, for $350,000. He performed for audiences for the next 14 years, while living in a pool that was made for a bottlenose dolphin. The pool was not equipped to cool it to temperatures suitable for orcas, so Keiko developed a skin disease and no other aquarium would accept him.

In 1993 Keiko, starred in the hit movie, “Free Willy” and became the center of a controversy after his fans, who were mostly children found out he was living in poor conditions in the amusement park.

The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation was founded and raised millions of dollars to relocate the orca. Meanwhile Keiko’s health began to deteriorate.

The Earth Island Institute, an advocacy group for marine wildlife started to research how to nurse Keiko back to health and return him to the wild.

In 1996 United Parcel Services (UPS) donated a plane to airlift the 7,720 pound whale to the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Keiko swam in natural sea water for the first time in 14 years.

Keiko’s seapen

From 1996-1997 the staff worked on getting Keiko healthy and began to teach him how to hunt for live fish. Keiko gained nearly 2,000 pounds and his skin condition disappeared.

Keiko was ready by 1998 to move to a pen in the North Atlantic. On September 9, he was airlifted by the U.S. Air Force to an island near Iceland.

In early 1999 Keiko was released back into his native waters and was under the watchful eye of the Ocean Futures Society who continued his training on how to be a killer whale.

A tracking device was placed on the whale in 2000 so his caretakers could watch out for him in the open sea. Keiko was making good progress and began to interact with wild orcas.

In 2001 Keiko began spending several days in a row out in the ocean with other whales. The staff was pleased with how he physically looked when returned. It proved to them that he could compete for food with wild orcas.

By 2002 Keiko was spending weeks at a time away from his caretakers. He spent 50 days without returning to the staff for food and covered 1,000 miles.

Keiko followed a fishing boat into Norway and became a local celebrity.

December 12, 2003 The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation reported that Keiko was under the care of a veterinarian because he showed signs of lethargy. In the early evening Keiko swam to a beach where he died of acute pneumonia. Keiko was the second oldest male orca ever to have been in captivity and he died FREE!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2011 5:16 pm

    all cetaceans
    are meant to be
    swimming unmolested
    by man
    safe, in the sea

  2. April 1, 2011 8:09 pm

    This clearly shows the double-standard used by the the marine mammal captivity/entertainment industry. They argue their position based on what looks most favorably upon them. They want to have things both ways:
    “Captive Orcas cannot be released because they cannot be taught to fend for themselves or capture live prey”… yet, they are intelligent enough to be taught new “behaviors” and tricks.
    “They cannot survive in the wild”… yet, wild orcas outlive their captive counterparts by a wide margin.
    “Keiko’s release was a failure”… yet, Keiko survived for 6 years during his transition out of a captive environment, longer than the average time that 62% of captive orcas survived.
    It’s abundantly clear that reintroduction into the wild is a far better alternative than a life in confinement.

  3. Lorrie permalink
    April 1, 2011 8:09 pm

    Beautiful site my friends! This is so informative and easy to understand.
    Keiko truly did get to have freedom in his last years. The disease that finally took his life was probably linked to his years spent in such horrible conditions.
    Lolita is next!
    Love you guys!!!

  4. Jen permalink
    April 2, 2011 1:53 am

    I’ve argued the same case with people before who say his release was a failiure.

    He did know how to hunt, when at the oregon coast aquarium, he was catching live steelhead weighing from three to 12 pounds each, comprising up to half of his daily intake of food, he was also catching black cod (but he hated squid and would spit them back at the trainers LOL). When he was in his sea pen he caught live fish that swam in, and when he was released the caretakers didn’t see him for 60 days yet he had lost no weight, which means he did catch his own food in the wild successfully.

    They would not have released him if they were not confident he could hunt for himself.

    He did become skinny because he was sick, it didn’t help that people chased him with boats to see him and threw food to him to get him closer and litteraly penned him into bays with the boats so they could stroke him (there are photos of it) he should have been left alone, who knows what germs he picked up from them.

    He was in perfect health when he was released, the trainers took, stool, blood and breath samples, the weighed him regularly, they took samples from inside his stomach to see the health of it, they checked his teeth and gums, they checked for infection, they measured his cardiovascular capacity, they tested how long he could hold his breath, he wore a heart rate monitor ect……

    Before release he was put through a training camp, designed to get his mind working, they taught him the command for ‘make something up’ and keiko TAUGHT HIMSELF over 40 new tricks (shows how smart they are) they urged him to spend more time under water, and exercised him for longer to get him fit.

    At his bay pen, he became more aggresive and spent more time under water, and arched his back more, his layer of blubber got thicker, he put on weight – essentially he was becomeing a wild killer whale.

    dont forget that at the time of his release he was the oldest whale in captivity and the second oldest male in captivity ever, so who knows what the toll of all that time took. His biggest problem was that he never found his pod, but he had only been free for seven months, it would have taken time to find them and reintergrate back with them, it took springer several years to be really fully eccepted back into her pod.

    He was a good candidate for release, and it wasn’t wrong to release him like some pro-caps say, it was just unfortunate he caught a very common orca killer disease. It does not mean another relase should not be attempted. The main problems are SeaWorld creating hybrids that could never be released, and it cost $20 million to release Keiko. To release every viable orca in captivity now into the wild would probably cost billions, who is gonna pay for that……..

    But I do think his oregon coast tank was very good, it had changable tides, and currents to discourage single direction swimming, a rocky reef that allowed him to use his echolocation, rubbing rocks (which he enjoyed so much that within six months he had shed an entire layer of skin), and bubble jets for him to play with. I think Seaworld should do some of this stuff for their whales if they care for them.

    • Lorrie permalink
      April 2, 2011 2:19 am


      It sound like you were either involved with Keiko’s release, or that you’ve really studied up on the issue. Either way, it is so encouraging to read these facts! Makes me even happier about his release. This is the kind of stuff the public needs to know so that Sea World and all other marine parks won’t be able to lie to people anymore.

      I could see the same thing happening for Tilikum or Lolita. If these stupid park would just STOP breeding these poor sweet creatures. I want my grandsons to someday ask me…Grama, tell me about when orca were kept locked up in tanks and forced to do tricks? They have never seen a show, and never will.

      I got to meet Mark Berman (The Berminator) a few years ago while he was involved with a PAWS (Performing Animals Welfare Society) event. I still have the signed photo of Keiko that he gave to me…I cherish it!

      • Jen permalink
        April 2, 2011 5:24 pm

        Thank you.
        I wish I’d had the chance to work with Keiko LOL. There are several books out about him but the best is called ‘Keiko’s story: a killer whale goes home’ by Linda Moore Kurth, avalible from Amazon. When you look at the cover it looks like a childrens book but it is packed with infomation, photos, statistics, diagrams and models of his former tanks and sea pen and she actually met keiko and interviewed his former trainers and his caretakes at all three of his enclosures, and she spent three years researching the book and travelled with Keiko on his jorney to iceland.

        Some info also comes from the keiko website (mainly the food infomation) and also articles from the Icelandic press as he was in the paper almost every day when he was in his sea pen (as well as some great photo’s).

  5. Laura permalink
    April 5, 2011 5:15 pm

    Beautiful article, and very informative. I love the idea of being able to free the ones that are jailed. No Orca or dolphin should live a life not knowing what it feels like to be free and to swim in an open ocean. Captivity is a cruel and barbaric practice that needs to end. My only reason I question it is because of their teeth. Its common practice for their teeth to be drilled down, and they need daily care so no infections form. Without that daily care, isn’t it possible for them to develop an infection and possibly die?

    I would love to see Lolita released back into the wild. She has the best chance, cause she can be returned to her pod. 40+ years of performing tricks for us humans, and making money for the Seaquariam is enough. Its time to release her and let her live out the rest of her life in freedom

    • April 5, 2011 7:25 pm

      Not all captive orcas are releasable mainly due to inbreeding, cross breeding and creating hybrids. Lolita has amazing teeth and she would be placed in a seapen like Keiko was. The main goal for the other orcas would be to phase them out of captivity, as they die off they are not replaced by ending the captive breeding programs all together.
      Thank you for expressing your concerns and commenting. I think we need to do a blog explaining the phasing out of the captive breeding program and seapens so the general public as an idea and understands they will not just be set free in the ocean to fend for themselves. ;0)

  6. whalesong2 permalink
    November 26, 2011 8:31 pm

    Wild animals need to be free in the wild. It’s as simple as that. If we can show enough compassion to help them when they need it, so be it. But they MUST be returned to the wild as soon as possible.

  7. Connie permalink
    April 26, 2013 2:27 am

    Amazing info. Sea World sucks …. Humans are allowed to victimize anyone or thing as long as everyone is getting paid. Jackasses!

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