That Time When An Orca Lived Here…

Category: General Article

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Every so often, a guest will appear at the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s doors asking about Keiko, the Killer Whale. Although the only Killer Whales you’ll find on site today are in videos or photographs, at one time Keiko was the organization’s biggest attraction.

Keiko’s true story of being rescued from substandard conditions in a Mexican aquarium where he’d lived since he was collected in 1979 was popularized by the movie “Free Willy” (1993). Following the success of the feature film, a foundation was established to purchase and transfer him to a new rehabilitation facility at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Keiko stayed at the Aquarium for three years until the foundation deemed him medically fit to return to the ocean in Iceland.

In late 1998, Keiko was flown by military aircraft to a bay pen in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. Controversy still surrounds the success or failure of Keiko’s release. While he never fully reintegrated with wild Orca pods, and often sought out the company of humans, he lived in a combination of bay pens and the open ocean for more than four years before dying of natural causes in August 2002.

Keiko made history for being the first Orca under human care to be returned to the wild. In the years since Keiko’s death, public attitudes have changed dramatically about keeping cetaceans like Orcas under human care. The public is now focused more on protecting native habitats and saving wild whale populations.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium does not have cetaceans as part of its collection. Most of the marine mammals in its exhibits are all rehabilitated individuals with various medical issues or infirmities which do not allow their safe release back to the wild.

To learn more about the Aquarium, visit Landmark Places: Oregon Coast Aquarium.