Friday, April 10, 2009

Was it a good idea to free Willy (Keiko)?

If you're an ocean person, you probably know about the Keiko release project, inspired by the movie Free Willy. What do you think, was it a good idea to attempt to reintroduce Keiko into the wild?

After release, Keiko swam in the ocean, but never was able to survive without human feeding and he continued to seek human company. He never dove like wild whales, and didn't appear to reintegrate with wild whales.

A scientific paper offers an answer:

“A release program can be considered a success when the released animal is able to feed, maintain health and stress levels comparable to his wild conspecifics, show normal predator avoidance behaviour, and ultimately reproduce (unless unable for other reasons, such as reproductive senescence),” write the authors of this new paper.

“Under these criteria, Keiko’s release to the wild was not successful, since though physically unrestricted and free to leave, he kept returning to his caretakers for food and company.”

At the end of the day, while it might have been appealing for humans to free Keiko, it may not have been good for the whale.

Remember that upwards of $7 million was spent on this release program, and Keiko died of pneumonia a couple of years after reintroduction to the ocean.

I would not have chosen to spend this much money on an attempted reintroduction of Keiko.

5 comments:

Lydia said...

Never did think so. My husband and I live inland from Newport, Oregon, where Keiko enjoyed a good life and the adoration of numerous fans. I'll always be glad that we saw him there. When the day came to fly Keiko out of Oregon on the first leg of his long journey to Iceland we read that the plane was to fly directly over our town. We stood in front of our place and watched as it seemed to fly really slowly right over our condo. I cried.

tshilson said...

The $7 million may not have been wasted. We learned a very valuable lesson -- Returning captive animals to the wild is very complex and not easy. There were a lot of other, lesser things learned.

Sweetwater Tom

Anonymous said...

It was a beautiful human effort to free that orca. Unfortunately his being so dependent on humans left him vunerable to becoming infected by human contact and that cost him his life. I will never knock that noble effort to set him free.

Brad

(loves the sea)

MAIACETUS said...

I also believe it wasn't a good idea...especially because they didn't know exactly which pod Keiko came from. Anybody who's worked with or observed wild killer whales soon learns that a killer whale pod, which is matriarchal, will more than likely never accept another whale unless it is closely related. There were better candidates for re-introduction such as Lolita at Miami Seaquarium becausee scientists know exactly which pod she came from (L pod of the BC and Washington Southern Resident Killer whale community). She can still make her pod's calls increasing the probability that she would be re-accepted.

The Keiko situation was for the public rather than the animal or it's species. Imagine if we'd put that much money towards restoring marine mammal habitat worldwide. For example, recent research findings indicate that should the stocks of the main prey of the endangered southern resident killer whale, the Chinook salmon, recover then this endangered population would have a much better chance of survival even with issues of acoustic and physical disturbance and toxins.

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