I was a “Free Willy” child.
In 1989, I experienced my first Killer Whale Show at SeaWorld San Diego. I was 8 years old. Soon I would move to Idaho, where there would be no SeaWorld and no ocean.
It wasn’t until 1993, when “Free Willy” hit theaters, that I was able to see a Killer Whale again.
I loved the movie. I watched it numerous times in the movie theater and countless times at home on VHS. Being the same age as the protagonist, I saw myself in that movie and dreamt of being able to work closely with Willy.
As I grew older, a campaign was created to free Keiko – the star of Free Willy. I was entering high school and I followed the story with interest. “Willy” would be in Portland soon and be free – fulfilling his Hollywood adventure.
Later, as far as I knew, Willy was released into the wild to live a wonderful and happy life – the stuff of Hollywood movies.
Then news started to spread about “Willy” (now Keiko) showing up in Norway, giving kids rides on his back. Shortly after that it was announced that Keiko had died.
Time passed and the world forgot, but Mark Simmons did not.
Mark Simmons’ new book “Killing Keiko” is a first hand look inside the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and its effort to reintroduce Keiko, “the world’s most famous Killer Whale,” back into his native waters of Iceland.
Mark’s story contradicts and then flat out unravels the entire story the world has been told about Keiko and his “successful release” into the wild.
Mark is an animal behaviorist that began, as many experts on Killer Whales do, with 10 years experience as a trainer for SeaWorld. He and his partner Robin – also a Sr. SeaWorld Killer Whale trainer – traveled to Iceland with the goal of helping reintegrate Keiko into a wild setting.
Their mission was to attempt to undo over 20 years of human interaction, preparing Keiko for life in the ocean, which would be 100% free of human intervention.
Reading “Killing Keiko” is akin to reading a book on the Titanic or Pompeii. You find yourself celebrating the amazing milestones Keiko made. You shed tears of joy as Keiko seemingly improves.
But then you remind yourself that no matter how hard you try, you can’t change history.
The book is titled “Killing Keiko” because Keiko didn’t die having lived happily ever after the way Hollywood fools us into believing is possible.
Rather, Simmons tells us from first-hand knowledge that Keiko suffered inhumanely and was borderline tortured by the mismanagement and agenda driven politics of the nonprofits managing his release: Humane Society of the United States, Ocean Futures Society, and the Free Willy Keiko Foundation.
This story is a cautionary tale about the mistakes of trusting those who have little to no experience working with animals and how they put their agendas first.
One quote from the book that absolutely is chilling comes from HSUS (note: shocking). They had a saying that Keiko was “better dead than fed”. You can probably interpret the meaning.
HSUS believes it would be better that Keiko die than live in a zoological park.
Line after line and page after page, Mark Simmons recounts this horrific tragedy and how our best intentions can be manipulated into fulfilling radical agendas. He adeptly makes the case against allowing animal “rights” groups, who have little concern for an animal’s welfare or wellbeing, to lead any discussion over the needs of animals.
Hollywood stories are often very far from reality.
This book is a must-read for anyone who feels the tug at their heartstrings over films like “Blackfish”. It’s a frank and cautionary tale exposing the same cast of characters who also brought us “The Cove,” “Blackfish,” and now government action like the California House Bill AB2140.
Using similar emotionally driven tactics, we have become their pawns.
This book is powerful in its message and its delivery. “Killing Keiko” ends with a grown man crying at the end, because no matter how hard you wish it weren’t true – they killed Keiko.