- May 26, 2001

REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- May 23, 2001 Keiko, the movie-star killer whale, may be permanently released into the wild this year after more than two decades in captivity.

The "Free Willy" star is feeding himself on live cod released into his pen in the Westmann Islands, off southern Iceland, training team spokesman Hallur Hallson said at a Tuesday press conference. "He's in excellent shape and there is no reason why he should not return to the wild this year," Hallson said. "It's completely up to him."

The team almost released Keiko last summer, when he made 40 trips outside his pen. During those forays, he traveled 600 miles and encountered wild orcas on 15 occasions, reinforcing hopes that he will eventually join a pod.

"Last year other orca whales were just as interested in Keiko as he was in them. We don't expect that situation to be any different this year," Hallson said. Keiko spent longer and longer stints away from his trainers, but always returned. By the end of summer, the wild whales had moved on and Keiko spent the winter in his pen.

The project to rehabilitate Keiko -- a five-year effort that included 32 months of training at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport -- is the first attempt to return a long-captive whale to the wild. It costs about $300,000 a month, all paid for with private donations. An organization called Ocean Futures owns Keiko and is leading the effort to return him to the wild.

Hallson said that Keiko will likely always have a distinctly curved dorsal fin, an apparent deformity that some have blamed on the whale's many years in captivity. Wild orcas have been seen with similarly shaped fins, and there is no reason to fear Keiko will be rejected because of it, Hallson said. "We don't know what it means," he said, "but we are certain it is something that is perfectly natural in the wild."

***Ocean Futures Preparing Keiko For The Winter
Source: Ocean Futures
- October 11, 2000

Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland - As winter settles into Iceland, Keiko's Klettsvik Bay 'quarters' are being reinforced for the season, providing safe harbor for the orca whale star of the movie "Free Willy" in anticipation of continued reintroduction efforts in the spring of 2001.

In the early Spring, weather permitting, Keiko will continue a series of ocean walks designed to continue his reintroduction to the wild. Keiko spent a successful summer re-acquainting himself with the open ocean, completing more than 500 miles of open ocean walks.

On more than a dozen occasions Keiko encountered wild whales, and interacted with them directly on nearly half a dozen occasions. This is an important step toward his eventual reintroduction to the wild, an objective that his caregivers, Ocean Futures Society, remain wholeheartedly committed to.

"Keiko has come so far it is truly unbelievable," said Ocean Futures Society president Jean-Michel Cousteau. "Keiko made great progress this summer and our winter months in Kletsvik bay will be dedicated to his continued enrichment and sound health. In early spring we will move into a new phase of our program where we intend to be with Keiko on the open ocean for extended periods with the help of a more suitable ocean going research vessel."

Scientists will spend the winter reviewing the extensive amounts of data collected over the past several months, which include more research on North Atlantic killer whales than ever before completed.

Photo identification, time-depth recorder tagging of wild whales, aerial mapping of summer migration patterns, genetic sampling, and acoustic recording are among the research projects being conducted.


"We have gained invaluable insight into the habits of North Atlantic orcas in the wild," said Jean-Michel Cousteau. "Ultimately, it will be up to Keiko to decide if he will return to the wild. In the meantime, we at Ocean Futures remain committed to doing everything possible to facilitate that process."

"Keiko's ocean walks have been particularly productive," said Cousteau. "We have been able to stay out in the open ocean environment for up to three days at a time. But we plan to have even greater platform support capacity next spring, which will allow for even longer and more productive ocean walks."

Keiko was captured in Icelandic waters more than twenty years ago at the age of two. Taken to perform in the marine park industry, Keiko was first sent to Canada for a few years and then transported to Mexico City, Mexico where he became the only killer whale to perform in Mexico or Central America.

Languishing in an inadequate facility, Keiko nevertheless became the star of the hit film, "Free Willy" where tens of millions of viewers learned of his plight. As a result, more than 1.2 million individuals--mostly children--worldwide demanded through an outpouring of letters, emails, drawings and donations, that he be set free.

Ocean Futures Society provides the global community with a forum for exploring issues affecting the ocean. Through research and education efforts, Ocean Futures addresses the following critical marine issues:

  • Protecting and Understanding Marine Mammals,
  • Protecting and Improving Water Quality
  • Protecting and Preserving Coral Reefs
  • Protecting and Restoring Coastal Habitats
  • Promoting Fisheries Management

    Ocean Futures is a non-profit organization formed as a result of the merger of the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Jean-Michel Cousteau Institute.

    For the latest information on Keiko and other Ocean Futures Society projects visit OCEAN FUTURES.


    ***Keiko May Spend Another Another Winter Confined***
    - September 14, 2000
    Source: WDCS

    Reports suggest that Keiko, the famous "Free Willy" orca, currently undergoing rehabilitation for release, will spend another winter in his sea pen in Iceland. Nevertheless, Ocean Futures, responsible for the Keiko project, say the orca came closer to freedom than ever before. During the summer months, Keiko made about 40 excursions outside his sea pen (enclosed by a net across Klettsvick Bay) and came across wild orcas. As more visits outside his pen were made, Keiko and the wild orcas reportedly began to tolerate one another. Winter is now setting in and it will become increasingly difficult for Ocean Futures staff to venture out into the sea with Keiko following their boat. The wild orcas have moved on.

    Daily News From Iceland - August 1 -


    While enjoying an open-ocean swim with his trainers, Keiko met some new pals on Wednesday. The international film sensation, star of two "Free Willy" movies, left his trainers for ten minutes to swim with a pod of orcas, his longest encounter with wild animals since his capture some 20 years ago.

    Trainers had been tracking this particular pod for some time and led Keiko to the whales in the hope that he might interact with them. Keiko's caretakers have been tracking wild orcas by helicopter since the summer began, hoping to find a suitable pod for Keiko to eventually live with.

    The encounter was met with much excitement by Keiko's caretakers. Listening to the underwater vocalisations of the whales, Hallor Hallsson, Icelandic spokesperson for Ocean Futures, the group responsible for Keiko's well being, said the sounds were varied and constant. Many think that it's just a matter of time before Keiko is finally reintroduced to the wild for good. The whale is completely fit and now hunts for his own food.

    According to Hallsson, Keiko has the tools to live in the open ocean. Today is certainly the perfect day to track orcas by helicopter. The sky is a mix of white streaks and blue, and it's warm, warm, warm. I even worked up a bit of a sweat walking to work this morning.

    - July 15, 2000

    MIAMI, Fla., July 14 - The killer whale that captured the hearts of millions after being featured in the movie "Free Willy" could be free himself at any moment. The whale's caretakers in Iceland say "Keiko" swims away on his own for hours at a time and just had his first encounter with wild whales.

    After producers made the movie, they felt so badly about returning the skinny whale to his small tank in Mexico City that they   floated a plan to free "Free Willy."

    Before long, Keiko was being trained to be wild again at his new home in Oregon. However, no one had ever attempted to return a captive whale to the wild before. Some even call it suicide. But thousands of kids around the world who saw the movie, not to mention some very rich backers, believed it could be done.

    Three years later, in the breathtaking coastline in Iceland, Keiko is now swimming freely in the very same open ocean where he was captured nearly 30 years ago at a young age.

    He's catching live fish, has gained 2,000 pounds and is in perfect health. His caretakers take Keiko on walks in the open ocean for up to 30 hours. They encourage Keiko to explore on his own. And he does, for hours at a time, 20 miles away. Keiko's caretakers say he's doing extremely well.

    "What we learned is Keiko had tremendous stamina to continue throughout those days, he's doing exactly the things we would expect. He's exploring his environment. And to us, it's a very exciting time," says Charles Vinick a member of Keiko's Team.

      It's an exciting time for Keiko, too, they say. He's fascinated by seabirds, by waves, the tide, currents, even the rocks. These are things he hasn't seen in years.

    For the first time, Keiko just recently spotted something he hasn't seen since childhood: wild whales. "We did get close to wild whales. When we got there, the only grouping that was close enough to our location for Keiko to interact with them, in any way, were two mothers and two calves. And when they got quite close to one another, actually, the mothers and the calves moved off in one direction and Keiko in the other direction," says Vinick.     Some day soon, Keiko may swim off and never come back. His caretakers say that's precisely the plan.

    "And that's what it is. We're now at the point where Keiko is driving the project more and more. Because once we're out there on a walk, where we' re out there looking for wild whales - then he and the wild whales are in charge," says Vinick. If Keiko goes free, backers of this project have said privately that they want to do it again, with another captive whale.

    Keiko's backers have made an offer for Lolita, from the Miami Seaquarium. Lolita is middle-aged. She was captures as a young adult, instead of an infant. She's held in the smallest whale tank in America.     Lolita's pod, near Seattle, is also the most studied in the world and needs child-bearing females.

    The pod was hit hard in the early 1970's when Lolita and dozens of other whales were rounded up and sold. Lolita may be a good candidate, except the Miami Seaquarium refused an offer from Keiko's backers and said they didn't even read it.

    In the past, the seaquarium has been very negative about letting Keiko free. But, as Keiko has progressed farther than critics expected, it now says it "cannot make specific comments on the Keiko experiment." Keiko is being fitted with a satellite tracker so, if he does decide to go, they'll know just where. Just in case the experiment doesn't work, they vow to care for him where he is, in all the splendor for the rest of his life.


    KIRO channel 7 in Seattle reported tonight from Iceland that Keiko's radio tag that was coming loose has been modified and will be back in Iceland tomorrow. They will resume the ocean walks tomorrow after about a week waiting for the tag. Ocean Futures intends to look for wild whales from a chopper and lead him to them. The scenario described is that Keiko will probably break away toward his family, or they will come to him. That's going to be a magical moment.

    For those in the Seattle area, Keiko's Choice part 2 will be on tomorrow's 5 O'clock news on Channel 7, probably again at 5:45 or so. It looks like as of tomorrow he'll make contact with wild whales any day now.

    As OF director Charles Vinick said, every step of the way people have said it couldn't be done, and now Keiko has proven to all that he's capable of returning to the wild. The same applies to Tokitae (aka: Lolita), Corky, Bjossa, Vigga and others.

    NEWSFLASH! Keiko Open Ocean Walk!
    Thursday May 25, 2000
    Klettsvik Bay, Iceland


    God Speed - KEIKO!!

    Ocean Futures Society is delighted to announce that Keiko successfully completed his first open ocean walk today. For the first time since his capture more than decades ago, Keiko swam in open ocean. He followed a lead boat exactly as he was trained for 2 hours and 21 minutes covering a distance of roughly 8 nautical miles. He is now safe and sound back in Klettsvik Bay, and his trainers have judged the exercise a total success.

    Details, photos, news links, and more of this historic landmark are available on the Ocean Futures Web site:

    Also, read Jean-Michel Cousteau's opinion piece on why Keiko matters on MSNBC's Web site:

    - Ocean Futures Calms Keiko Fears -
    May 19, 2000

    Statement by Ocean Futures Society in Light of Planned Demolition and Construction Work in Klettsvik Bay, Iceland

    Santa Barbara, CA -- A number of rumors have emerged in recent days regarding planned harbor construction work near Klettsvik Bay, Iceland and its potential effect on Keiko, who currently resides in the bay. Following are the facts of the situation.

    On April 6th 2000, Ocean Futures Society learned that construction of a pier would occur in Vestmannaeyjar Harbor as soon as April 15. The construction would involve blasting and pile driving at a distance less than half a mile from Keiko's bay enclosure. At this distance, the shock waves and low-frequency vibrations from the construction work could, in Ocean Futures Society's judgment, pose a risk of physical harm to Keiko.

    Upon discovering the construction plans, Ocean Futures Society entered into immediate negotiations with local officials to secure a delay in the harbor improvements work. Officials at Vestmannaeyjar did agree to a short-term delay, but indicated that work would need to go forward as early as May 25. Ocean Futures Society is also actively engaged in discussion with the Icelandic and U.S. Governments on the best strategy for safeguarding Keiko's well-being as construction and blasting work gets underway.

    Ocean Futures Society has been actively engaged in Keiko's rehabilitation and preparation for reintroduction to the wild since his relocation to Iceland in September, 1998. This process has gone extremely well, and Keiko is, in the judgment of his trainers and caretakers, ready to take further steps toward reintroduction. Keiko is eating up to 20% live fish, responds without fail to a recall signal, and has followed a boat on command for up to 11 nautical miles. His health is excellent.

    Ocean Futures Society is now assessing all possible options for protecting Keiko over the coming weeks. While no final decisions have been made, one option would be to take Keiko out of his enclosed bay on an "ocean walk", during which he would follow a designated boat to the open sea -- a measure for which he has undergone intensive training in recent weeks. Keiko's trainers have expressed confidence that his physical stamina and willingness to follow a boat mean that the risks of such a walk are slight, and may be far outweighed by the risks to Keiko's health should he be in the harbor during blasting. "Ocean walks" have been planned from the start as a key stepping stone in the reintroduction process.

    During such a walk, Keiko would be led out of the enclosed bay that has served as his home for the past 17 months and then back to his bay enclosure. The duration of the walk, should this option be chosen, would be long enough to permit the harbor authorities to complete their blasting work and pile driving. Ocean Futures Society's only priority in Iceland is Keiko's well-being. All actions will be taken with this sole concern in mind.

    May 18, 2000

    Please write to the Minister of Fisheries to request that such a development does not go ahead, which could possibly harm or kill Keiko!

  • Arni Mathiesen
    Minister of Fisheries
    Skulagata 4
    150 Reykjavik
    Fax: 354-562-1853


    EAST FALMOUTH-At 4 PM EST in Washington, DC a spokesperson with the US State Department revealed to conservationists, attending a meeting about whales and whaling, that Keiko the Killer Whale, from Free Willy fame and who millions of people have supported his release back into the wild, is in imminent danger from dynamite explosions scheduled to begin in the Icelandic fiord site which has become his temporary home.

       Negotiations with the Harbor Master and local Icelandic Community Officials for a stay have failed.  Dan Morast, President of the International Wildlife Coalition, is calling for an immediate protest to Iceland, for this action to cease immediately.  "This is utterly absurd but true.  We have few details but we need to act immediately to prevent any harm coming to Keiko.  He is in immediate danger." stated Mr. Morast.

    Dan Morast- President
    International Wildlife Coalition
    70 East Falmouth Hwy.
    East Falmouth, MA. 02536
    508 428-7852 home
    508 548-8328 office