December 12, 2003: 
Keiko, Star of Free Willy, dies in Norway

“The Free Willy Keiko Foundation and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reported today that Keiko, the orca whale, died today in the Taknes fjord, Norway, in the company of staff members who have been caring for him there. 

Keiko’s veterinarian believes that acute pneumonia is the most likely cause of death, though he also cited that Keiko was the second oldest male orca whale ever to have been in captivity. 

The two organizations managing Keiko’s reintroduction effort expressed sadness at Keiko’s death while also heralding his amazing journey. 


David Phillips, president and founder of the Free Willy – Keiko Foundation stated, “Rescuing Keiko from a cramped pool in Mexico and bringing him back to his home waters is the most spectacular effort ever launched for an animal.” He continued: “Keiko was a champion; the most incredible whale.” 

Paul Irwin, president of The HSUS added: “Our intention from the very beginning, over a decade ago, was to provide Keiko with the chance for freedom, and that is exactly what he got. He came a long, long way and showed that returning captive whales to the wild is not simply a dream.” 

Dr. Lanny Cornell, Keiko’s lead veterinarian and a world renowned expert on orca care, stated: “The most likely cause of death is from acute pneumonia, though it must be noted that at age 27, Keiko was one of only two male orca whales ever to have survived past 25 years in captivity.” He continued: “We have monitored Keiko’s health very closely, and until only a day ago his appetite, activity and blood tests were all excellent.” 

Yesterday, Keiko exhibited signs of lethargy and lack of appetite. Consultation was continuous between his caretakers and Dr. Cornell. His behavior was still abnormal this morning and his respiratory rate was irregular, but, as is often the case with whales and dolphins in human care, these were advanced signs of his condition. With little warning, Keiko beached himself and died in the early evening local time. 

A decade ago, Keiko was featured in the Hollywood movie, Free Willy, prompting a worldwide effort to rescue him from poor health, in an attempt to allow him to be the first orca whale ever returned to the wild. 

In 1996 Keiko was flown aboard a United Parcel Service plane to a new rehabilitation facility in Newport, Oregon. There he was returned to health and trained in the skills necessary to be a wild whale. In late 1998, Keiko was flown in a U.S. Air Force jet to a sea-pen in Iceland. In the summer of 2002, Keiko joined the company of wild whales and swam nearly 1000 miles to the Norwegian coast. Since then, Keiko has been cared for in a fjord where he was free to come and go by his own choice. 

Keiko inspired millions of children to get involved in following his amazing odyssey and helping other whales. Keiko’s journey also inspired a massive educational effort around the world and formed the basis for several scientific studies. Thousands of people traveled to Norway in the past year to see Keiko, continuing his legacy as the most famous whale in the world. 

Phillips stated: “Keiko was a trailblazer, the first orca whale ever rescued from captivity. There’s still a lot of work to be done to see that captive whales are given a chance to be free. Keiko showed what is possible if these animals are just given the chance.” 

Irwin stated: “From the beginning, we did the right thing for Keiko and we intend to continue the fight to keep whales free.”” 

More information about Keiko and a timeline of his amazing journey to freedom can be found on The HSUS web site at

December 5, 2003: 
There are plans to start a new orca display at The Palm, Jebel Ali, in the United Arab Emirates. It is one of two islands expected to open in 2007, featuring a range of luxury hotels. Including an aquarium with a killer whale stadium (more information here).

In addition to that, some rumours are flowing that the Dolphinarium at Harderwijck, Netherlands, which has had orcas until they sent Gudrun to SeaWorld, is trying to get an orca.

October 31, 2003: 
On October 24, the captured Russian female orca died. The circumstances are not known yet. She survived not even one month in captivity. Unfortunately the Russian authorities have approved to catch another 6 orcas in 2004 despite this disaster!

Russian female 2003

October 28, 2003: 
As assumed earlier, Ku was moved today from Taiji Whaling Museum to Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium, which is having their first orca now. They had plans to acquire more whales through Russia. Also brought from Taiji was a bottlenose dolphin as a best friend of Ku. It is said that Ku was loaned to Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium for five years with 30 million Japanese yen per year. Two aquariums will carry ‘joint research’ of artificial insemination which is the first attempt in Japan. Ku’s transfer leaves Nami alone again at Taiji Whaling Museum.

October 16, 2003: 
Already last December Hudson at Marineland Ontario had to be separated from the main orca group including his mother Kiska because Nootka V, the dominant female at Marineland, showed some agressive signs towards Hudson. So the trainers separated them and he’s now with Kandu VII. Hudson’s behaviour has changed a lot since Algonquin died and the separation took place. He is reunited with his mother from time to time.

October 13, 2003: 

Sources have confirmed that a juvenile and a young calf were amongst a group of orcas targeted in a capture attempt in Russia last month.  The juvenile became entangled in the net, suffocated and died. The remaining animals, except for one female, were subsequently released. 

The group of orcas was captured on September 26th in the remote Russian Far East, where the WDCS-funded Far East Russia Orca Project, has been researching these animals since 1999.  The female orca was taken to a floating pen in the area and later transferred by charter plane to Anapa on the Black Sea where the Utrish Aquarium has one of its facilities.

This is the first time in six years that an orca has been captured alive for the captivity industry.  WDCS is very worried about the welfare and survival of the female concerned and the members of her family group that were left behind.  It is possible that this capture will set a precedent for further captures in Russian waters, leading to a revival of international trade in these animals by the captivity industry. 

Please help us in our campaign to stop further captures, by protesting to the Russian authorities and letting them know that this capture is unacceptable to the international community.  Please send a polite letter to the Russian Minister of Natural Resources, Vitaly G. Artyukhov at:   
For more information and an example letter please go to: WDCS

Please also send your letter and a copy of any responses that you receive to 

Canada`s OrcaLab reported more information about the first capture of a Russian orca. The captive is a 430cm long female orca weighing about 1100kg. On October 6th she was flown to the Utrish Marine Station of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences on the coast of the Black Sea where she will be used “in various scientific investigations” according to Dr. Lev Mukhametov of the Utrish Dolphinarium in a letter to OrcaLab`s director Dr. Paul Spong. 

A long time opponent of orca captures, Spong obtained the information in response to a faxed inquiry to the Utrish Dolphinarium. Noting “the ugly history of orca captures in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere” Spong expressed empathy for the captive and other family members who were “certainly subjected to terrifying circumstances”. Unverified reports have it that one family member was entangled in nets during the capture and drowned. Spong is particularly concerned about the long term consequences of the capture, noting that “it opens the door to a whole new era of orca roundups that could fill the tanks of the captive industry for decades”. Mark Berman of Earth Island Institute and the Free Willy Keiko Foundation commented “this tragic event is certain to provoke outrage from around the world and I simply can’t understand why Russia would invite it.” 

The Russian government has issued permits for the capture of 10 orcas in the Kamchatka region during 2003. 

For further information: 

  • Dr. Paul Spong, OrcaLab:
    Tel/fax: +1 (250) 974-8068 
  • Mark Berman, Earth Island Institute, Free Willy Keiko Foundation: 
    Tel: +1 (415) 788-3666; Fax: +1-415-788-7324 
  • Dr. Lev Mukhametov, Utrish Dolphinarium: 
    Tel/fax: +7 (095)958-1260 
  • Dr. Dmitry S. Pavlov, Director A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution 
    Tel: +7 (095) 952-2088 
    Fax: +7 (095) 954-5534 

October 8, 2003: 
Loro Parque, situated in Tenerife, Spain, is supposed to start keeping killer whales next year. Contact have already been made with SeaWorld. They will sent 4 whales to Tenerife, 2 from Orlando and 2 from San Diego. Trainers from Loro Parque are at SeaWorld to learn how to work with the whales and trainers from SeaWorld will join the whales to Tenerife for the first few months. Construction of the new pool will not be at Loro Parque itself but near a waterpark called Octopus at the other side of the island. At the moment Loro Parque is waiting for permits to begin with the construction. 

October 5, 2003: 
Stella’s third calf has been named Sarah.

October 1, 2003:
Outrage as first orca is captured in Russian waters

WDCS has just received news of the capture of a female orca, or killer whale – the first known capture from a population living in one of the remotest regions on Earth.

The 5-metre female was captured on Friday September 26th, 2003, in Avacha Gulf, Kamchatka, Eastern Russia, by captors working for the Utrish Aquarium on the Black Sea. The following day, she was transferred to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky where she is currently being held in a sea pen in the bay, but the indications are that the female will shortly be moved to the Utrish Aquarium.

WDCS has long feared that such a capture would take place. For the past three years – despite strong representations from WDCS and orca scientists and experts all over the world – the Russian authorities have issued capture permits, although previous capture attempts have been unsuccessful. This year, the captors have permits to capture up to 10 orcas (4 from the Kamchatka region, the remaining 6 in Sakhalin and Ohkotsk districts) and they are expected to continue trying to catch more orcas throughout October. WDCS is very concerned about the possibility of further captures, as well as the welfare of the captured orca and the effect her capture will have on the remaining members of her family group.

WDCS has a special interest in the orcas of Kamchatka. Since 1999, WDCS, along with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), has funded the Far Eastern Russia Orca Project (FEROP), a long-term Russian-Japanese-British initiative. The project has also received funding support from Cetacean Society International (CSI), Project Thursday’s Child/Earth Island Institute, and the Animal Welfare Institute, in the US, plus the Sacher trusts in the UK and the Klüh Foundation in Germany. Breathing life into what was a previously unstudied population, this pioneering project has used photo-identification techniques to reveal the presence of at least 151 orcas resident in the main study area of central Avacha Gulf – sadly now also a capture site. Acoustic analysis has enabled valuable comparison of call types, variations and use, helping to establish kinship among local pods and communities. 

All the findings to date, on the orcas’ diet, foraging and socialising behaviour, as well as their communication – suggest that these orcas are a largely ‘resident’ population, comparable to those resident off British Columbia, Canada, and Washington State, USA, and likely possessing the same strong social bonds. 

In 2001, a letter signed by more than 25 international orca scientists was presented to the Russian authorities asking them not to allow any orcas to be captured in Russian waters. The letter warned of the possible consequences of taking individuals from populations about which very little is known and for which any removals would have seriously negative implications.

In addition, there is no previous experience of capturing and keeping orcas in Russia. Any animals targeted are likely to suffer greatly from stress and potential harm during the capture itself and during the subsequent ordeal of long-distance transportation to the final captive facility. Those animals remaining in the pod are also likely to be traumatised by the capture process. The long-term danger is that Russian waters will become a regular source of orcas for the captivity industry, with disastrous consequences for the individuals and populations targeted.

WDCS is asking the Russian authorities to make public the full facts surrounding this first orca capture in Russian waters.

Source: WDCS

Pictures and video of the capture!

Note: On September 15, 2003, the scientific team of the Russian Far East Orca Project had finished the research season and left the area. It seems that the captors had only waited for that to happen, so they could do their business without gaining much attention. As the Russian aquarium has no experience with orcas, this poor juvenile has not much chance to last long…

September 14, 2003:
Inspectors threatening to close Miami Seaquarium

“Wiring, bridge over sharks among the safety violations

Miami-Dade County building officials closed sections of the venerable Miami Seaquarium on Friday and threatened to shut down the entire attraction after surprise inspections uncovered scores of safety violations in its public areas. The violations include exposed electrical wiring, crumbling concrete and loose, corroded guardrails on stairways and viewing decks — including the bridge over the shark moat.

Seaquarium’s operators immediately began some repairs, and the park will remain open this weekend after some areas that inspectors said were unsafe because of loose guardrails or other problems were cordoned off — including the two upper-story decks at the main reef tank. Gaps in the shark-pit bridge fence were temporarily covered with plywood panels.

But county building chief Charles Danger gave the park until Monday to repair a long list of electrical violations.”They have Saturday and Sunday to clean it up. If it’s not fixed by Monday, I will shut them down,” Danger said in an interview, citing “exposed wires everywhere, open electrical boxes everywhere, light posts where the wiring is bad everywhere.”

Danger said the county’s inspection, prompted by a videotape of park conditions made by animal-rights activists, found abundant evidence of shoddy, patchwork maintenance, jerry-rigged wiring and long-neglected repairs throughout the nearly 50-year-old Seaquarium. ”You can see they were patching here and patching there, and patching on patches, and they have been doing this for some time,” Danger said. “That doesn’t work when you have a corrosive environment. Now they have gotten a wake-up call. They’re going to have to fix it up fast if they want to keep it open.”

The immediate focus is on life-safety issues in public areas, Danger said. But inspectors also compiled a lengthy list of less-urgent code violations at all 15 buildings at the park, which has been given 30 days to make those repairs. Especially alarming, he said, was the condition of many of the handrails and guardrails that protect visitors and employees from falling into fish tanks or tumbling down stairs. The anchors on some, in particular at the reef tank, were so corroded they were ”completely gone” and would not hold up if anyone leaned against them, Danger said.

County inspectors also discovered a crew doing repair work on the manatee tank without required permits.

Seaquarium operators did rapidly complete repairs at the home of its star attraction, Lolita the Killer Whale. Danger allowed the stands surrounding her tank to reopen Friday after they were shut down for a day because of corroded guardrails and deteriorated canopy support beams. The citations come as Seaquarium is embroiled in a controversy over an agreement that allows it to pave over 6.5 acres of lushly landscaped public green space across the Rickenbacker Causeway for 500 parking spaces.

Danger sent inspectors out to Seaquarium earlier in the week after receiving a videotape of alleged violations from Russ Rector, whose Broward County-based Dolphin Freedom Foundation has long criticized the attraction’s practice of holding and exhibiting marine mammals. Rector said members of his group made the video in public areas of the Seaquarium after noticing numerous instances of exposed wires, cracked concrete and loose handrails during visits to the park to check on its animals’ welfare.

He said the violations show park administrators have as little regard for its patrons and employees as for its animals. ‘I may be an animal activist, but people come first in my book,” he said, citing the thousands of children who visit the park every year on field trips. “They were willing to play with the lives of these kids to save a few bucks.”

Many problems uncovered Thursday and Friday likely went unnoticed by the county for years, Danger said.
The reason, he said, is that inspections are usually carried out only in the case of complaints or when owners obtain permits to do work. In those cases, however, inspectors examine only the complaint area or the permitted work.

Structures older than 40 years must be inspected and re-certified every 10 years, Danger said — a rule that covers many of Seaquarium’s buildings, some of which are nearing 50 years of age.
But those inspections are carried out by private engineers hired by the owners, who certify to the county the buildings meet required codes.

Private engineers working for Seaquarium might have misled the county in at least one case, Danger said.”

Posted on Sat, Sep. 13, 2003
By Andres Viglucci
Miami Herald

Note: It was about time that the horrendous state of the Miami Seaquarium facility got the public’s attention. This place has been rotten since many years and despite all those yearly promises by owner Arthur Hertz, nothing was done about it.

September 11, 2003: 
Rumours that Sharkane at Marineland Antibes has given birth to a new calf turned out to be false. This was confirmed both by the facility and independent visitors.

September 6, 2003: 
Stella’s third calf, first declared as a boy, turned out to be little girl! Kamogawa Sea World, Japan, had a poll taken for the name, but the result hasn’t been announced yet. Maybe they named “him” Harry and have to revote now.

September 5, 2003: 
Rumours that Tilikum at SeaWorld Florida is in serious health trouble turned out to be exaggerated. He had been taken out of the show for a while for a minor lung infection and an infected fluke injury but is fine again. But especially with lung infections it’s important to stay alert because that is the major cause of death among captive cetaceans.

June 8, 2003: 
After being absent for more than ten years, famous transient Charlie Chin has apparently been sighted again off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Charlie Chin had been captured in March 1970 and escaped in October the same year under mysterious circumstances. He was seen quite often, easy to identify because of his weird looks, but disappeared in 1992. Transients, marine mammal eating orcas of the Pacific Northwest, are not seen very regularly. Big gaps between sightings have happened before, quite contrary to their fish eating relatives, the Residents. It would be great to have him back!

June 3, 2003: 
On the evening of May 31st, Stella at Kamogawa Sea World, Japan, gave birth to her third calf. The father of the little boy is Bingo. Stella has two other calves with Lovey, born in 1998, and Lara, born in 2001.

June 1, 2003: 
A new campaign has started to rehabilitate and hopefully release Kshamenk at Mundo Marino near Buenos Aires, Argentina. Kshamenk has been forced to strand in September 1992 and is in rather bad condition caused by a cooling system that is way too weak for the tank system. At the same time there are efforts by Six Flags of Ohio to import Kshamenk and put him together with young female Shouka.

May 15, 2003: 
An Argentinian TV station showed a documentary about Kshamenk at Mundo Marino. It’s in spanish but the pictures speak very much for themselves! If it’s no longer featured on the front page, you’ll have to search for the file MUNDO MARINO.DOC at BUSCADOR DE VIDEOS.

April 26, 2003: 
Freya at Marineland Antibes, France, had another stillbirth on April 1, 2003. That’s the fourth time she’s lost her baby, only 1996 born Valentin made it. Freya is eating well, her blood samples are fine and she’s back to “her old self again”. Quite a tragic history of pregnancies, almost as bad as Corky’s.

April 12, 2003: 
Six Flags Worlds of Adventure Ohio has received another setback in its effort to import a killer whale from Argentina to start a breeding program at the Bainbridge Township amusement park. The Argentine government recently denied a permit to transfer an 11-year-old male orca from a Buenos Aires aquarium to Northeast Ohio. Six Flags has been trying since 2001 to acquire the whale, Kshamenk, on a breeding loan from Mundo Marino aquarium. Animal-rights groups, who have opposed the transfer, called the denial a victory. Six Flags officials said the park will continue its efforts. 

Note: A minor correction, Kshamenk was captured in 1992, so he’s a bit older than 11 years.

March 29, 2003: 
Asahi-Nagoya newspaper release an article this week titled ‘we will stop capturing orcas’. The newspaper told that Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium decided not to capture wild orcas in Russian waters. Nagoya Port Authority recently put up Yen 350,000,000 for annual budget of 2003 but as ‘there is no evidence to catch orcas in spite of using budget’, ‘we should consider international opinion’ the aquarium will try to get orcas from other aquariums. It is said that the aquarium tried to catch orcas for two years and paid Yen 88,000,000 in 2001 and another Yen 18,000,000 in 2002 to traders but failed. Russia is the only possible place to catch orcas but they found that the ecology of orcas in the place is yet to be known . The aquarium is now at the last step in bringing orcas from Taiji on ‘breeding loan’. They also thought that it is not good to irritate the US which concentrates cetacean conservation (I was surprised by this. I think this came because prime minister Koizumi supports the US.). But at the end the paper reported that the aquarium doesn’t abandon the plan completely. ‘There is no trader who offers the capture of orcas in Russia but if the aquarium gets such a trader, it will continue investigation for the future.

January 26, 2003: 
Russia has given a permit to capture up to ten orcas in 2003. Last year’s attempts were unsuccessful, hopefully this year ends with the same result. Protests and oppositions against these events are coordinated by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

January 18, 2003: 
Katina’s calf of 2002 has been named Ikaika, which is a Hawaiian word for “strength” (pronounced “EE-kai-kuh”).