In 1979, Keiko was captured and taken (aged 2) from the waters of Iceland. Keiko was transported to a marine park in Canada where he was put on display with other captured orcas from different parts of the world. Keiko was separated from the other orcas on display due to his poor performance record, in addition, he was being bullied by the other orcas.
In 1985, Keiko was then sold to a marine park in Mexico City, Mexico. There, he performed for crowds alongside bottlenose dolphins. In Mexico, he outgrew his tank and his health began to decline. The reason behind this health crisis was due to the warm water temperature in the tank and breathing the smog-filled polluted air. At this time, he also developed a Papilloma skin virus all over his body.
In 1992, Warner Brothers Studios needed a star performer for their killer whale picture “Free Willy”. The film was about a boy who befriended an intelligent and sentient orca confined in a rundown aquarium. The aquarium owners planned to kill the orca and make it look accidental in order to collect the insurance money. The boy would ultimately set the orca free. The film was released in 1993, it was a box office success. The film motivated millions around the world to find out what happened to the real whale in the film.
When the public realized this whale was not only still performing in an aquarium, but also living in poor conditions, a global outcry never before seen ensued. Keiko would become the most famous whale in the world and his life would change the way humans perceive whales and dolphins in captivity. The crusade to save Keiko thus commenced. After much struggle, years of negotiations, and with an insurmountable amount of money, Keiko was finally rescued. He was moved to a brand new state-of-the-art facility in Newport, Oregon where he would be prepared for the biggest challenge of his life: rehabilitation and release into the wild.
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