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Free Keiko - inspiring story of the most famous whale

Updated on April 29, 2012
Keiko was separated from his family to entertain humans.
Keiko was separated from his family to entertain humans.
Jump towards the freedom Willy!
Jump towards the freedom Willy!
Happy ending.. After so many years of being captured, Keiko got to be independent....but his family is long gone..
Happy ending.. After so many years of being captured, Keiko got to be independent....but his family is long gone..

An orca, who is separated from his family to perform and entertain humans. He lived in an ocean and now he has to survive in a small swimming pool. He used to hunt fish with fellow killer whales, now he depends on people. Every night he cries and communicates with his family members who are only few metres away. But Willy can't walk and can't get back to the ocean on his own. He needs help. That's when Jesse comes on a scene. A boy who's had a tough life and orca who is lonely, soon become friends. Jessie trains Willy and lots of people come to see their show. Willy feels anxious and doesn't perform. Everyone is disappointed. Evil marine park owner wants to get rid of an orca, who doesn't make him any money. Jessie finds out and will do anything to save him. Willy is freed and back home with other whales. Hollywood's happy ending.






In a real life, Keiko, whose name means ,,Lucky one'' in Japanese, had a similar story.

He was born around 1977 and captured by a fishing boat in 1979. Separated from his family, he was held in an Icelandic aquarium. 3 years later, he was bought by the Marineland Theme Park in Niagara Falls, Ontario. At Marineland, Keiko was trained to perform to the public, but also he began to get sick.


In 1985, Keiko was purchased by Reino aventura, an amusement park in Mexico city, for 350,000 dollars.

In 1993, Keiko shot the fame in Free Willy. His stardom drew attention to his poor living conditions. He was sick and underweight. He lived in a small and dirty pool. This led to forming the free Willy – Keiko foundation. Jean-Michel Cousteau of Ocean Futures said: "Keiko captured the hearts and minds of millions of children around the world when they learned that Free Willy's happy Hollywood ending was fiction. They truly wanted Keiko to be free.''

Can he survive without humans? Can he adapt back to the wild life? People had lots of doubts.


In 1998, Keiko was transferred to Iceland where he was being looked after by Ocean Futures Society. Being trained to catch a fish, and survive on his own without depending on human caretakers, he slowly got used to his natural environment. Keiko was in excellent health.

On March 3, 2000, after 21 years that he's been captured, Keiko had his first swim in the open bay.

In the summer of 2002, Keiko joined wild whales and swam nearly 1000 miles to the Norwegian coast. Since then, Keiko has been cared for in a fjord and he was free to come and go as he pleased.

Thousands of people travelled to Norway to see him.

Keiko's incredible journey finished on December 12, 2003. His veterinarian believes that the most likely cause of death was pneumonia.

Keiko's story touched millions and inspired children and adults all over the world to get involved and help captured animals. Keiko was the first orca whale ever rescued from captivity.

He will never be forgotten.

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