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1977 or 1978:

Keiko is born in the Atlantic Ocean near Iceland.


Keiko is captured by a fishing boat, separated from his family, and held in an Icelandic aquarium.


Marineland in Ontario, Canada buys Keiko, where he becomes a performing animal.


Marineland sells Keiko to Reino Aventura, an amusement park in Mexico City, for $350,000.


Warner Bros. Studios begins filming the movie "Free Willy" on location in Mexico City. The plot involves a young boy saving a whale, portrayed by Keiko.


Free Willy is a surprise hit at the theaters, especially with millions of school children around the world. That support, along with media coverage detailing Keiko's unacceptable living conditions in Mexico City, prompts the movie studio, the park, and animal protection advocates to find Keiko a new home. Dr. Lanny Cornell comes on board as Keiko's lead


Earth Island Institute, an environmental advocacy group for marine wildlife, begins the search for a location where Keiko can be brought back to health and trained for potential release to the wild. The Free Willy Foundation is formed in November with a $4 million donation from Warner Bros., and an anonymous donor.


The Mexico City amusement park donates Keiko to the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation. The foundation announces Keiko will be moved to a new, $7.3 million rehabilitation facility at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Craig McCaw is revealed as the anonymous donors of $2 million, which helped start the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation. The Humane Society of the United States also becomes a sponsor.


United Parcel Service sponsors the airlifting of Keiko to the aquarium on January 7. Weighing just 7,720 pounds, Keiko is placed in his new pool and experiences natural sea water for the first time in 14 years. Keiko gains more than 1,000 pounds, and by year's end his skin lesions begin to heal. Keiko is featured on the cover of Life Magazine and in a popular documentary, The Free Willy Story, on the Discovery Channel. More than 2 million visitors come to see Keiko in Oregon.



Keiko's staff begins introducing him to live fish in an effort to teach him to hunt for food. His skin lesions have all disappeared and he is determined to be in excellent health. He catches and eats his first live fish in August. By June, Keiko weighs 9,620 pounds. The staff of the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation sets a goal of releasing Keiko into a pen in the North Atlantic by 1998. After an intensive search and negotiations with foreign governments the decision is made to reintroduce Keiko to the wild in Iceland.


A medical panel determines that Keiko is healthy and exhibiting the normal behavior patterns of a killer whale. Keiko is eating live steelhead weighing from three to 12 pounds each, comprising up to half of his daily intake of food. On September 9, Keiko is lifted from his tank and transported by a US Airforce C-17 transport jet from Newport directly to Klettsvik Bay in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.


During his first full year back in his native Icelandic waters, Keiko, now under the day-to-day care of the Ocean Futures Society, continues training to prepare him for his potential reintroduction to the wild. An essential component of his program is moving his attention from above to below the surface of the water. In doing so, Keiko depends less on his human caretakers and develops greater interest in his natural environment.


Keiko is fitted for a tracking device that will allow staff to take him out to the open ocean. Keiko makes amazing progress during his sea "walks," even beginning to interact with wild orcas in the vicinity of his sea pen. His health and stamina improves as he comes closer to returning to his wild ways.


Early in the year, Keiko exhibits behaviors consistent with wild whales-competing with other animals for food. Keiko begins initiating contact with wild orcas in the vicinity and spends several days away from his human companions. The primary challenge ahead is for Keiko to begin maintaining himself on wild fish and regularly associating with wild orcas.


On his first day out of the netted bay pen in the summer of 2002, Keiko leaves the tracking boat and begins spending considerable time in the company of whales. He is monitored in and around groups of wild whales for the next three weeks. He then begins an epic journey covering nearly 1000 miles across the North Atlantic, by the Faeroe Islands, and to the coast of Norway.

The first observations of Keiko in Norway document that he is in excellent physical condition. Keiko has been on his own for close to 60 days without food from humans. His lead veterinarian, and a variety of other orca scientists, come to the conclusion that Keiko has successfully fed himself in the wild, a major milestone in his journey to the wild.

Keiko follows a fishing boat inside a Norwegian fjord in the Halsa Community. He is an instant hit there with people coming from throughout Europe. Thousands of visitors come to see the friendly whale. The Project staff work closely with the Norwegian government to put in place regulations to keep people from swimming with, feeding, or getting too close to Keiko.

Meanwhile, the Craig McCaw Foundation and Ocean Futures Society turn over the management of the project to the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Humane Society of the U.S.

In December Keiko is walked to the Taknes bay staff continue to work with and feed Keiko. For the first time ever, Keiko is in an area where he can come and go as he chooses. The Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Humane Society of the US continue to care for Keiko while allowing his historic journey to the wild to move ahead.

The Norwegian government gives its full support to the continued effort to give Keiko the chance to return to the wild.


December 12, 2003 -- 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.

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.