Death of Keiko may coincide with rise of anti-whaling movement in Norway, Japan
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2003:
TAKNES FJORD, Norway; TAIJI, Japan–Keiko, 27, the orca
star of the Free Willy! film trilogy, died suddenly on December 12,
2003 from apparent acute pneumonia.
His death concluded perhaps the most Quixotic, costly, and
popular episode in 138 years of documented efforts by some humans to
save whales from exploitation by others, beginning with the
post-U.S. Civil War anti-whaling crusade waged in the North Pacific
by Captain James Waddell and the crew of the ex-Confederate cruiser
Shenandoah. Waddell and his few dozen men destroyed 38 whaling ships
and took more than a thousand prisoners without killing anyone before
they were apprehended.
Their mission, recounted by Murray Morgan in Dixie Raider
(1948) inspired Paul Watson to found the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society in 1977.
The Sea Shepherds during Keiko’s last months were trying once
again to halt the semi-annual “drive fishery” slaughter of dolphins
at Taiji, Japan, a frequent target of protest by both Japanese and
foreign activists since 1979, when Blue Voice founder Hardin Jones
managed to film the killing. Japanese coastal fishers planned to
kill 22,000 dolphins and other small whales in 2003, with a quota of
2,900 allocated to Taiji.
Joining the Sea Shepherds in Japan from October 24 to
mid-November was Ric O’Barry, the former Miami Seaquarium dolphin
trainer and capture team member who on Earth Day 1970 made the first
known attempt to free a captive whale–the indirect inspiration for
the Free Willy! saga and the expenditure of more than $20 million
over eleven years in the effort to make Keiko’s life follow the plot
O’Barry, who has now freed many small whales successfully,
predicted all along that Keiko would never become a genuinely wild
whale because he had become too habituated to humans.
Watson pointed out as early as 1995 that the sum raised to
try to free Keiko far exceeded the total campaign budget of all the
activists working to halt Japanese and Norweg-ian whaling, and to
prevent the resumption of commercial whaling by other nations.
The most famed and beloved whale ever, who was evidently as
fond of humans, especially children, as humans were fond of him,
“Keiko believed his purpose was to open people’s hearts and to teach
them about love and loving animals,” eulogized Oregon animal
communicator Bonnie Norton.
Whether or not Norton actually conversed with Keiko from
halfway around the globe, as she claimed she did after meeting him
at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in 1997, her words were echoed by many
of his other human friends and acquaintances.
Other comments by Norton were more controversial. Asserting
that Keiko on November 11 transmitted a last message to her about his
intense loneliness, Norton said he died of a broken heart.
“Please let our loss of Keiko be a lesson to listen to the
animals as individuals and honor what they want, not what we think
they should want,” Norton wrote.
Norton had argued for years on her web site and in a
July/August 2003 ANIMAL PEOPLE guest column that Keiko did not want
to return to the wild, the goal pursued for him by first the Earth
Island Institute, then the spin-off Free Willy/Keiko Foundation,
and since June 2002 by the Humane Society of the U.S., which took
over the effort to rehabilitate Keiko for life in the wild after the
Free Willy/Keiko Foundation ran out of money and merged with the Jean
Michel Cousteau Institute to become Ocean Futures.
Captured off Iceland in 1979, Keiko spent two years at
Marineland of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Sold to El Reino Aventura in
Mexico City, he remained there until 1996, when the Free
Willy/Keiko Foundation acquired him after three years of fundraising
and activist pressure and relocated him to a newly built super-sized
tank at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. More than 2.5 million visitors
came to see him before he was airlifted to a sea pen in the Westmann
Islands of Iceland on September 10, 1998.
Nearly five years of frustration among activists and his
trainers followed, as Keiko seemed unable or unwilling to learn to
catch live fish. Instead, he preferred to play with them
until they escaped.
Then, barely a month after inheriting the rehabilitation
project and changing the whole staff, HSUS seemed to have abruptly
succeeded in releasing Keiko. Swimming up to 100 miles a day with
pods of 40 to 80 wild orcas, managing somehow to feed himself enough
to keep going, Keiko dodged storms and ships–and on September 1,
2002, swam into Skaalvik Fjord, Norway, 250 miles northwest of Oslo.
He made his way to the nearest children and began to play.
Thereafter, Keiko cavorted with humans and begged for fish
treats whenever he could, while HSUS staff tried to keep humans away
from him and pondered his future.
Free Sea Shepherds!
The Free Keiko! story came to an end two days after the Sea
Shepherds succeeded after three weeks of effort in freeing Allison
Lance, wife of Paul Watson, and Alex Cornelissen. Jailed in Japan
on November 18 after untying and sinking the nets that held 15
dolphins pending slaughter, Lance and Cornelissen were released on
bail totaling $8,000 U.S.
“This works out to $533 for every dolphin they saved,”
Watson observed. “This is an adopt-a-dolphin program that has
Following the arrests, the Sea Shepherd campaign was
continued by volunteers Nik Hensey of the U.S. and Thomas Heineman of
“During the evening of November 19,” Watson e-mailed,
“Japanese police raided the trailer park where the Sea Shepherd crew
are based in Taiji. They ordered Hensey and Heinman to leave, then
entered and boxed up all the property in the trailer, including
cameras, film, clothing, and a laptop computer, leaving them,
stranded in a hostile village without personal assets. Neither man
was charged with a crime.”
The first Sea Shepherd volunteers reached Taiji on September
29. On October 6 they videotaped the massacre of 60 dolphins.
Three members of the Sea Shepherd team were detained by police and
interrogated for nine hours, but were released without charges.
“We have found a way to save the dolphins,” Watson e-mailed
to supporters. “We just need to be there. Our crew of four patrols
the waterfront every morning, and this prevents the Japanese from
rounding up dolphins,” from fear that the round-up would attract
publicity. “We need volunteers,” Watson emphasized.
O’Barry, working for the World Society for the Protection of
Animals since 2001, was in San Francisco at the time, discussing
with Earth Island Institute executive director and Free Willy/Keiko
Foundation founder Dave Phillips the possibility of organizing a
“rapid response team” to deal with dolphin captivity crises–like the
July 2003 capture of more than 200 dolphins at Gavutu in the Solomon
Islands by Canadian entrepreneur Christopher Porter and associates.
Twenty-eight of the dolphins were subsequently sold to the Parque
Nizuc swim-with-dolphins complex in Cancun, Mexico. Fifty-five were
still held at Gavutu as of mid-October, while an unknown number had
The Taiji dolphin killing has often been preceded by selling
some dolphins to oceanariums. No such sales were scheduled in 2003,
but that was close enough to a “captivity issue” for O’Barry, who
deployed himself as a “rapid response team,” funded by Earth Island
Institute, Cetacean Society International, the Born Free
Foundation, and Blue Voice.
It was to be O’Barry’s last mission for WSPA, as effective
on January 1 he will become marine mammal specialist for the French
animal rights group One Voice, of Nates, founded by Muriel Arnal.
It was also the first time in many years that O’Barry and the
Sea Shepherds have worked together, as their work has largely
pursued different priorities.
Back in the U.S., O’Barry and Watson found that they had
developed similar perspectives on the future of campaigns against
Japanese whaling, both at Taiji and against killing larger whales on
the high seas.
“I have heard several people suggest that we implement a
‘Boycott Japan’ strategy,” O’Barry e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE, cc.
to Watson. “I think this would be a big mistake. Having been to
Taiji and witnessed the dolphin slaughter up-close and personal, I
can report with absolute certainty that the Japanese people are not
guilty of these crimes against nature.
“From what I witnessed, there were a total of 26 whalers in
13 boats driving the dolphins into the cove and slaughtering them,”
O’Barry said. “It is not the whole village of Taiji doing this.
Many of the people of the village were exceptionally friendly, and
they should not be targeted and punished for some thing they are not
guilty of. Please keep in mind that it is not the Japanese nation
doing this. A boycott of Japan is a blanket indictment of all
Japanese people. Thus the boycott would in fact be a form of racism.”
O’Barry recalled that his first organization, the Dolphin
Project, “spent most of 1975/76 traveling from Coconut Grove,
Florida to cities in the U.S. and eventually Japan with several
Japanese and American musicians, such as Fred Neil, Joni Mitchell,
Jackson Browne, Shigado Izumia, Warren Zevon, Harry Hossano, John
Sebastian, and the Paul Winter Consort,” simultaneously protesting
against Japanese whaling and trying to stop a boycott of Japan called
by “most of the well-funded US animal welfare and environmental
groups, who pooled their money and took out full page advertisements
in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, et al,”
with counterproductive results. The boycott, if anything, appeared
to hinder the growth of the native Japanese anti-whaling movement.
“A better strategy,” O’Barry wrote, “would be to isolate
the few people who are guilty of killing the dolphins from the rest
of the Japanese population, who are totally unaware of the problem.
That is exactly what we will be doing at One Voice.”
Agreed Watson, “There should not be a boycott. I don’t
think boycotts work very well, and I agree that it is only a small
minority of Japanese who support killing dolphins and that the
majority should not suffer for it.
“I disagree that the boycott would be racist,” Watson
continued. “No one involved in protecting whales and dolphins is
motivated by anti-Japanese views; therefore I don’t think it can be
said that a boycott is motivated by racism. We get called racists
for opposing Makah whaling. The Norwegians even call us racists for
opposing their whaling, saying all anti-whalers were Anglo-Saxons
and therefore anti-Scandinavian. The logic escapes me, but the
point is that we seem to be labelled racist no matter what we do.
But aside from that, you are right in opposing a boycott.”
Along the shore of Taknes Bay, Norway, Keiko’s three HSUS
keepers and five local volunteers quietly buried Keiko before dawn on
“It was like burying a friend,” said Lars Olav Lilleboe of
“Lilleboe confirmed that the township likely will erect a
monument on Keiko’s grave,” wrote Nina Berglund of the Aftenposten
English web desk.
When a Norwegian coastal village commemorates a beloved
whale, how much longer can whale-killing continue to receive