Willy the Orca Meant for Captive Life

Remember the hit movie for children “Free Willy?” I’m sure many of you watched this film in the past and I know very well that you’re familiar with the orca whale that was featured in the movie. Its real name is Keiko.

You may have learned after watching the film that “Free Willy” was eventually released into the wild. Based on its title, the movie actually had the theme of freeing the captive whale to let him live a normal life in the wild. And due to the film’s big success, efforts were later launched to bring him back to the wild.

But a new study on the orca Willy found that he should not have been set free into the wild. This was the finding of Danish researcher Malene Simon of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources who recently initiated the study on Keiko, the whale. The study’s findings were published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

It was in 1979 when Keiko was captured as a young whale at that time off the coast of Iceland. He spent almost two decades as a captive whale at a marine amusement park.

The research of Simon from Denmark, however, pointed out that Keiko was not suitable for the wild due to several reasons. These include his long history of captive life, close bonds with humans and lack of contact with other whales. Additionally, the researcher stressed Keiko’s inability to feed on his own, integrate with other whales and avoid human contact.

Those reasons, Simon said, were attributed to the failure of the whale’s release in 2002. Keiko, after he was set free, apparently returned every now and then to his caretakers for food and company. He also spent most of his time in shallow waters above four meters when wild orcas usually dive deep between 50 to 75 meters. Keiko died at around the age of 26 in 2003 due to pneumonia.

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