The $20M lessons of "freeing" Keiko the whale

The Seattle Times
By Sandi Doughton

Despite $20 million and the best of intentions, the killer whale who starred in the movie “Free Willy” never lived a free life.

Keiko wasn’t accepted by orcas in his home waters off Iceland and had to be fed frozen fish throughout most of the seven-year effort to reclaim his wild heritage, says the first scientific review of the project.

The whale was captured young and had been held in captivity too long for him to break his ties with humans, said Malene Simon of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, the study’s lead author.

But Simon doesn’t fault environmentalists, marine-mammal experts and philanthropists for trying.

“One of the goals was to figure out if it’s possible to release a captive killer whale,” she said. “I just don’t think Keiko was a good subject.”

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