Cry of the Dolphin
They rewrote the boy as a juvenile delinquent, the whale as a petulant malcontent, and the amusement-park operator as a penny-pinching crook, but they kept the climactic release. Once Warner Bros. Twenty-one of the twenty-three orcas in the United States belong to Sea World. Shuler Donner and Tugend looked further. The resulting torrent of calls blew the minds of everyone involved—the executives at Warner Bros. Of course, everyone had fallen in love with him. The cast was in love with him. Everyone who gets near him gets Keiko virus. Keiko, who had become infected with his own virus—a papillomavirus that had caused the pimply irritation on his skin—was still languishing in Mexico, but now he was in demand.
Now, suddenly, everybody wanted him. Michael Jackson sent representatives to Mexico, hoping to acquire Keiko for his ranch. Conservation groups wanted him for this or that aquarium. Scientists asked to keep him in a tank on Cape Cod for research. More than a million people had already contributed to the cause, but in amounts that were usually modest, raised at Free Willy bake sales and by kids breaking open their piggy banks. The Humane Society of the United States gave another million.
And then he gave another one and a half million to build a tank for Keiko in Oregon. His intention was never to be as involved as he became, but he really kind of bonded with Keiko. He went swimming with him. Mexican children cried bitterly when Keiko was loaded onto a U. The park used to allow kids to have pool parties with him in his tank, and now he was leaving for good, travelling thousands of miles north to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
In a documentary film about Keiko, his Reino Aventura trainers, two beautiful young women, were nearly hysterical about his departure, saying he was not just a whale or a job but their closest friend. The truck carrying him to the C Hercules cargo plane moved at a solemn pace with a police escort, as if it were the Popemobile, and more than a hundred thousand people lined the streets at dawn to say goodbye. In Newport, Oregon, the depressed, gray seaside town where the aquarium is situated, there were more crowds and more tears—Willy was almost free!
Throughout Oregon, there was Keikomania, with around-the-clock news reports and Keiko-cams and special sections in the newspaper about the whale, with instructions on how to fold a broadsheet into a whale-shaped cap.
Librarika: Free Willy: Cry of the Dolphin
There was really something there. By every measure, Keiko thrived in Newport. His skin cleared up; he gained two thousand pounds; he tasted live fish for the first time since infancy; he had toys to play with and a television set on which he could watch cartoons. His caretakers found him more Labrador retriever than orca: cheerful, affectionate, eager to please—the sort of killer whale who, if you were in the tank and he swam over to see what you were doing, would be careful not to accidentally crush you to death. Attendance at the struggling aquarium rose to an all-time high, and all those visitors, with their demands for snacks and souvenirs and motel rooms and gasoline, buoyed every enterprise around.
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He was then twenty-one years old, a middle-aged piebald virgin living as good a life as captivity could offer. But the plan had always been to free Willy, even though a killer whale had never been set free before. Moreover, Keiko was hardly an exemplary candidate for release. He had been confined for so long, had become so thoroughly accustomed to human contact, and was so much more a diplomat than an executioner that it was hard to imagine him chewing holes in walruses and beating schools of salmon to a pulp with his terrible, awesome tail.
W hen would Keiko be ready to take the next step toward freedom? Could he swim great distances? Could he hold his breath underwater for a long time? Relations grew ugly, then hideous. To the dismay of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the run of million-visitor years would soon be over: the panel announced that Keiko was ready and able to go. Even then, there were skeptics who believed that the effort to free Keiko was doomed. But even among whale people—free-whale people, that is—there was doubt.
Keiko, they argued, was already ruined. It was too late to teach him what a wild whale needs to know, and he repeatedly demonstrated an alarming preference for frozen fish over fresh, suggesting that his tastes had become completely corrupted by two decades in a fishbowl. Skepticism was not the only impediment to moving Keiko to his ancestral home.
Free Willy: Cry of the Dolphin
Consider this: Icelandic fishermen view whales as annoying and gluttonous—blubbery fish-grinders that consume commercial product by the ton. The government has asked the International Whaling Commission to allow regulated whaling again, and Iceland recently accepted the first shipment of Norwegian whale meat in fourteen years. Now imagine that you are David Phillips, of Earth Island Institute, and you represent a telecommunications billionaire, the Humane Society, and Ocean Futures, an environmental group founded by Jean-Michel Cousteau, and you are approaching various Icelandic ministries for permits to construct a million-dollar pen in the harbor; organize a fleet of boats, helicopters, and airplanes; and muster a crew of scientists, veterinarians, and animal trainers for the nurture and eventual discharge of one Keiko, a.
Willy, a whale. Furthermore, the affront of having a whale so coddled in Icelandic waters would not even be offset by the comfort of cold cash, since Keiko would not be on display. There would be no Icelandair travel packages to visit Keiko—he would be living in a pen in the harbor, accessible only by boat, and he would be slowly weaned from human contact to ready him for life among his brethren.
There is very little by way of whale-conservation awareness in Iceland, and a lot of hostility toward anything coming from the U. So we started looking at other locations, in Ireland and in England, too.
So now there was another flight to pay for three hundred and seventy thousand dollars , another pen to build a million dollars , a staff to recruit and equip and pay. The annual costs of the project in Iceland were estimated at three million dollars; if Keiko never learned to live on his own, the foundation could conceivably be looking after him for thirty more years, at a cost of ninety million dollars. The flight on an Air Force C was booked, the gallons of diaper-rash ointment to moisturize Keiko during the long flight procured, Familian Industrial Plastics contracted to build the new pen, the staff of fifteen lined up.
By September of , it was all ready. The goodbyes were again tearful. Ah, the Westman Islands! To make a living, people in the Westmans fish and they fish and they fish, and a few of them service the small but steady tourist economy. Every August, the baby puffins sail out of their nests to make their first trip on the ocean and instead crash-land in town, seduced by the lights of human civilization. When full grown, puffins are enjoyed in the Westmans roasted, smoked, or sliced thin, like carpaccio.
Everyone, certainly, liked Keiko, admired him for his gentle giantness, for being the good egg who tolerated being crated and shipped hither and thither, for suffering with a sort of martyred calm the strange, fickle circumstances of his life. The storms were endless—wild, white, end-of-the-world storms, with screaming winds and waves so high and stiff that they looked set with pomade.
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A walloping squall hit Heimaey just two weeks after Keiko arrived. A crust of grass grew on the lava, and every summer local farmers ferried their sheep out to spend the season grazing on the ridge. And throughout the next three years the caretaking staff turned over again and again, because it was lonely and cold in Iceland, even if you were crazy in love with your whale.
Then the stock market deflated. This would not ordinarily be a matter of much concern to a whale, but Craig McCaw now wanted to pay more attention to his other undertakings—some land-based conservation efforts, some world-peace initiatives with Nelson Mandela—and it just so happened that his company, Nextel, had seen its stock price fall from a high of more than eighty dollars a share to somewhere around ten. The next year, he dallied a little, and more than once he stayed with the wild whales when the staff boat sailed away.
During the winter, when the wild whales were gone, he was back in his pen full time, and he was the same tractable fellow as always, ready in a minute to put his big wet rubbery head in your lap. If he was getting an idea of what wildness was, he was still a bit of a baby, and certainly daintier than you might think a killer whale should be. Once, when the trainers instructed him to bring something up from the bottom of the bay, he presented them with a puffin feather when they were expecting something more like a boulder, and then he accidentally dropped it, dived back down, and brought up the same tiny feather.
Another time, he came up with a little hermit crab that was blithely scurrying up and down the long row of his teeth, oblivious of the fact that it was inside the mouth of a killer whale. When seagulls stole his food, he got angry, but he usually just grabbed them, shook them a bit, and spit them out. In the film, a killer whale is coaxed by a young boy to jump over a sea park wall to freedom.
Reality proved more difficult. Keiko, whose name means "Lucky One" in Japanese, was freed in Iceland in July , after five years training to help it to survive in the wild. However, the orca swam miles and in September appeared in Skaalvik Fjord in western Norway, where it allowed swimmers to play with it and even ride on its back.
Norwegians drove for hours for a chance to see and play with "the movie star whale". Its handlers, from the Keiko Project, a collaboration of marine experts from the Humane Society of the United States and the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation charity, coaxed it a few miles to the more remote Taknes fjord in November They still often fed it the lb of fish that it required every day. In the wild, orcas live for an average of 35 years. Keiko was captured off Iceland in It was exhibited in aquariums in Iceland and Canada, before ending up performing in a decrepit amusement park in Mexico City.
For 11 years its home was a rusty tank of dirty, warm water just 12 feet deep. It contracted papilloma virus, which produced wart-like patches on his skin. Its fortunes changed in when it starred in Free Willy, about a boy fighting the unscrupulous owner of an oceanarium to liberate its star turn. The film became a worldwide hit, and when the living conditions of the real "Willy" became known, adults and children funded a multi-million dollar campaign to save Keiko from its tank in Mexico.
It was taken to a vast, specially built pool in Oregon, where its luxuries included a wide-screen television.