Seasonal observations of an ever changing coastal landscape 
by Bold Bluff host Tamar Griggs 

Sad news: Keiko the "Free Willy"  Whale died

Date: 12/23/03
Time: 8:34:02 PM
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On December 12, Keiko, the famous orca who was the only captive killer whale ever to be released back into the wild, died in Norway, probably of pneumonia. His remarkable story has been followed by thousands of children and people worldwide, and he will be sorely missed. But he is also an inspiration, and an ambassador for other captive killer whales: against all odds and the powerful, lucrative entertainment business of "circus" whales in Seaquariums, he was released from his tiny tank in Mexico City in 1996 where he performed for crowds of people, and sent back home to Iceland. But first, he became the famous Hollywood film star in the "Free Willy" movie. You can imagine the outrage that children felt worldwide, when they discovered that "Willy" was NOT free - he was still in his tiny bathtub in Mexico City. It was the children who insisted that he be given a chance for freedom. In REAL LIFE - not just the movies! After much deliberation, he was shipped to a seawater tank in Newport, Oregon in 1996 to regain his health and to be taught how to feed in the wild. This was the first time in 17 years that he felt the soothing ocean waters. After 2 years, he was strong and healthy enough to return home. He was flown by the US Air Force to Iceland in 1998, and here he mingled with other killer whales but never joined his original family (perhaps he never found them. And the scientists didn't know to which family he belonged as the Icelandic killer whales are not studied the way we have studied "our" local whales for decades). Then, in the summer of 2002, Keiko made the amazing journey from Iceland to Norway, surviving 50 days in the wide ocean. Here, he was welcome, especially by children. And here he made his home - until his death Dec. 12th. Let us hope that his remarkable story will inspire others to have compassion on the 2 veteran captive killer whales that are still in tiny tanks performing for crowds of people: Lolita in Seaworld in Miami, Florida, and Corky in California. We know to which family these whales belong, (Lolita to L pod, our Southern Resident whales, and Corky to the Northern Resident Pods) and hope that they will be given the chance of freedom. Our Southern Resident Whales are an endangered species and literally, they might be a mere memory for our grandchildren if we do not take action now. Lolita is still in her breeding age and can be a valuable member of her clan. For more information, please contact

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