Dear Friends of Lolita,

Part of the excitement of watching Keiko’s progress is watching various news media fall all over themselves to announce that Keiko will never be free.

It happened again yesterday. Another completely false AP story was picked up by the major networks and now 100 million people have heard “they have given up on getting Keiko to join other whales and are now looking for a permanent home for him.”

Absolutely false, says Charles Vinick, Ocean Futures vice president. KING 5 TV in Seattle ┬ásays reports that Ocean Futures has given up on returning Keiko to the wild “are not true.” There was a misunderstanding, says Vinick. “Keiko is making a lot of progress and the project to return him to the wild is far from over,” he said.

Thanks go to Michael Harris of Orca Conservancy, who caught the bogus story and straightened it out, at least for the Seattle audience.

Please help distribute the corrected report. Thanks.

Dear Friends of Lolita,

After making tremendous strides (or strokes) toward complete independence from humans in the past three months, Keiko has to return to Klettsvik Bay for the winter. Although the whales remain off the southern coast of Iceland through November and some stay year around, the weather often prevents boat trips into the open ocean, so Keiko will remain in the fenced bay till spring.

Keiko has traveled and cavorted with dozens of orcas this summer, and seems to have communicated and shared certain calls with some of them, but he has only had contact with a few hundred of the several thousand orcas that inhabit the waters around Iceland. Studies of other orca communities show that lifetime family ties are the essence of orca lifestyles, so it is very possible that Keiko simply has not yet encountered his close kinfolk, so he hasn’t felt the bonds that would hold him in the company of the wild orcas.

By contrast, Lolita’s immediate family is well known and is routinely monitored each year. She was captured at around six years old, compared to Keiko’s capture at 1 or 2 years old, so Lolita may be more prepared to resume the behaviors needed to rejoin her family.

It is not known what will happen next spring. Options include another summer of boat-follow trips out into the open sea, or possibly establishing a feeding station somewhere along the coast of Iceland, allowing Keiko to come and go as he pleases year around. The town of Eskifjord is closest to the location where Keiko was captured and would provide a protected inlet for such a feeding station.

August 30, 2001 (KOIN-TV) It looks like the “Free Willy” star won’t be going free any time soon.
Keiko will be spending this winter in his pen near Reykjavik instead of returning to the wild as his handlers had hoped.
But despite the decision to keep Keiko penned for the winter, scientists are focusing on the mammal’s significant progress.

Note Bjossa is a 23-year-old female orca dying at Sea World from infections against which she presents little or no defenses. She was moved from Vancouver Aquarium in April this year because it was impossible to purchase a companion for her despite three years searching.

Bjossa had a good appetite on her arrival at Sea World but that has changed. She has stopped eating and her trainers are alarmed.

Bjossa, Vancouver’s favourite killer whale, is “gravely ill” and has not been responding to treatment for a recurrent lung infection, a spokesman for San Diego’s SeaWorld said Tuesday.
Bob Tucker said the prognosis is “not good” for the 25-year-old orca, despite round-the-clock medical care and visits from her former trainer, Brian Sheehan, who worked with her when she performed at the Vancouver Aquarium.
“She’s hung on pretty well, but in the last few days things have not been looking good. She hasn’t been eating and has displayed listless behaviour,” said Tucker, adding that the whale normally consumes about 45 kilograms of fish each day.
SeaWorld veterinarians will keep a constant watch on their new addition and are trying to stay positive.
“We’re just hoping for the best, and we’re not giving up by any means,” Tucker said.
Bjossa lived at the Vancouver Aquarium from 1980 until earlier this year. Left without the company of other whales when her partner, Finna, died in 1997, she was transferred in April to SeaWorld because a companion could not be found for her here.
But the move from Vancouver had nothing to do with the flare-up of what amounts to a chronic condition, Tucker said.
“She just really blew everyone away with her rapid social adjustment to her new surroundings, but she just never came out of this illness, so medically, her health has always been a concern and never saw any improvement.”
Tuesday morning, SeaWorld veterinarians transferred Bjossa from a public pool to a private, intensive-care pool in the back of the aquarium.
“That was an indication of how concerned the veterinarians here are about her condition. They want to be in an area where they can closely monitor her and access her quickly if they have to,” Tucker said.
Bjossa became ill last week, when Tucker said she stopped responding to her trainers, lost her appetite and spent more time swimming near the pool’s surface.
Bjossa weighs about 2,500 kg, and her sheer size makes it difficult to determine what is causing the infection, said Clint Wright, vice-president of operations for the Vancouver Aquarium.
“It’s very difficult to even pinpoint exactly what’s going on inside her. Something like an ultrasound, in a person, you can get a good look at the lungs, but with a whale, because their lungs are so huge and their body is so immense, it’s extremely difficult to get a good picture. It’s really a bit of a guessing game.”
Bjossa fell ill with the lung infection in March 2000, but seemed to recover. This time, the problem is lasting longer and seems less responsive to treatment, Wright said.
Sheehan and Wright travelled to San Diego last week when they first heard Bjossa was ill, but saw her health take a quick upswing. Confident she would recover, Wright said he returned to Vancouver. On Sunday, Bjossa began to get worse, and Wright will return to the tourist park today.
Aquarium staff were pleased with her progress in California, Wright said.
“She looked like she was having a great time down in San Diego. She seemed to be doing very well. She started putting on weight and we were very happy with the whole thing. It seemed like it was a great decision to move her there.”
Although he called Bjossa’s condition a “blow” to staff of both facilities, Wright agreed the transfer was not responsible.
“I really don’t believe it has anything to do with the move. She was in good shape to move, and if there was anything associated with the move, it would have showed up early on, but in fact, she did really well.”
But Annelise Sorg, director of the Coalition for No Whales in Captivity, said she believes that the Vancouver aquarium sent Bjossa to SeaWorld to die.
“They really pawned her on SeaWorld in her last months of life,” Sorg said. “I think they wanted to avoid the public relations nightmare that the death of Bjossa would cause in Vancouver.”
Sorg said the whale lost three babies and two mates during her life in Vancouver, then endured a traumatic move and the loss of her companion, a dolphin named Whitewings.
“Her life has been a tragedy one after another,” Sorg said.

Dear Friends of Lolita,

On August 8, 2001, the 31st anniversary of Lolita’s capture, about sixty people joined Florida State Representative Gus Barreiro, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) and Orca Conservancy (OC) in front of the Seaquarium in a demonstration of our commitment to return Lolita to her home waters. Back in Washington, on the evening of August 8 a commemoration ceremony was held at the Captain Whidbey Inn on Penn Cove, the site of Lolita’s capture in 1970.

These events followed a fascinating week that began when Rep. Barreiro paid a courtesy call to Arthur Hertz, owner of the Seaquarium, to let him know he was initiating a high-profile public awareness drive to gain Lolita’s freedom. Mr. Hertz quickly countered with a media event of his own, in which he once again loudly proclaimed his promise to build Lolita a new tank, a vow he has made and broken repeatedly for over 20 years in an effort to avoid enforcement of Animal Welfare Act, under which his present tank is illegally small.

Mr. Hertz’ attempt to fool the media backfired when reporters contacted ARFF and OC and were told that it was not economically possible for Mr. Hertz to build a $17.5 million tank that will be useless as soon as Lolita departs one way or another. Lolita is the oldest orca still surviving in captivity, and it is no longer possible to purchase a captive orca. Heather Lischin of ARFF also informed the media about our August 8 demonstration. Mr. Hertz’ media gathering thus provided a venue to publicize our demonstration!

The demo was energetic and well attended, showing the fruits of the new coalition of ARFF, OC and Rep. Barriero. Mr. Hertz added to the crowd with his own spies and a publicist who attempted to sway the media with the moldy old falsehoods about Lolita’s supposed inability to return to her home and his ficticious plan to build a new tank.

On the eve of the demo Miami TV carried the news that Keiko was happily swimming free in his home waters in Iceland and showing no need for dead fish or human company. Since August 1 Keiko has remained up to 35 miles from the boats day and night, his whereabouts known only by blips from his satellite tag and the occasional helicopter overflight as he cavorts and socializes with wild orcas.

It’s not known if Keiko has located his close family members at this point, but he’s clearly preferring to be with free-ranging orcas rather than his human trainers. It’s still too early to declare Keiko completely free of human control, but within a few weeks the decision will have to be made whether to attempt to coax him back to the bay pen at Klettsvik Bay with an acoustic signal. If called back to the pen it will then be up to Keiko to decide whether to be confined again for the winter or remain with his wild counterparts on the open sea. Watch this space for more news about Keiko!

After the demo, veterinarian Greg Bossart, Mr. Hertz’ hired mouthpiece, was trotted out once again to repeat his sing-song propaganda to discourage and confuse the public. “Unethical, inhumane and irresponsible” sang Bossart, ignoring Kieko’s progress reported days earlier. Bossart repeatedly demonstrates the marine park industry’s desperate attempts to block all proposals to release captive orcas. He once even wrote an article in Marine Mammal Science to mislead the scientific community and the public by falsely claiming Keiko carried a virus. A team of six veterinarians appointed by the USDA examined Keiko and determined that he carried NO dangerous virus.

But regardless of Hertz’ fallacious media blitz, plans are underway to demand that the USDA remeasure the obsolete and illegal tank Lolita has been forced to live in 24 hours a day for the past 31 years. Simply by enforcing existing regulations contained in the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA could shut down the Seaquarium’s whale stadium and force Lolita to be moved to a more humane home. The best possible home for Lolita is, of course, her real habitat and extended family in Puget Sound, Washington.

Dear Friends of Lolita,

*21 year old female orca dies at Sea World in Texas

*Ocean Futures clarifies Keiko’s fantastic progress

We have two stories to share with you on this eve of the August 8th demonstration at the Seaquarium, which could be a very major event to kick off a sustained public awareness drive in Florida.

Haida II, a 21 year old female orca at Seaworld in San Antonio, has died of undetermined infections. This sad captive death demonstrates two things. One is that orcas in captivity seldom live into their twenties, and two, it demonstrates that there will be no surplus orcas on the market for the Seaquarium to buy, as Hertz claims. For a female orca to die for no apparent cause is similar to a human at the same age dying from unknown internal causes.

Haida II, by the way, was one of the orcas who drowned a trainer in Victoria in 1991.

SeaWorld staff performed a necropsy on Haida (pronounced hide-uh) on Thursday but do not expect to know a cause of death for at least a month. Tissue samples and various organs were sent to independent laboratories, park spokesman Bob McCullough said.

— August – a window of opportunity for Keiko to join whales this season — Ocean Futures Press Release: Successes Seen as Summer Reintroduction Efforts Continue for Keiko

August – a window of opportunity for Keiko to join whales this season

The reintroduction team’s energy is totally focused on keeping Keiko among whales for the weeks ahead while wild Orca remain in the waters of the Westman Islands. It has been fascinating to see how closely the migration
patters of the wild whales mirror the behavior we observed last year. For the last two weeks we have had very few whale sightings in the area. Our aerial surveillance teams traveled in a radius of more than 75 miles from Vestmannaeyjar without seeing whales for day after day. In checking our records from the summer of 2000, we noted that we had a similar absence of whales during the latter part of July.

Exactly like last year, the whales returned during the last week of July and we now have 40 or 50 wild killer whales in the area. From experience, we know that the whales are likely to leave the area for the year shortly after the middle of August and that is the window of opportunity for Keiko to join whales this season.

We are very encouraged by the frequency of the interactions Keiko has initiated with the wild whales. In these next few weeks the effort will be focused on allowing Keiko to be with whales without our presence nearby to
impact the interaction in any way. We will monitor Keiko with the VHF radio transmitter and his satellite tag, as well as with visual observation from our helicopter team.

Can Keiko truly join a pod of whales? We cannot know. Based on three years of observational data, we know that the killer whale pods are very cohesive. These animals live in the same pod for life. Each pod has its own dialect.
Humans know very little about the social structure of the pods and we do not know what it will take for a pod to allow Keiko to bond with its members.

To us, it may seem like the reintroduction process is taking a long time. But in reality, for Keiko and the whales, the process may not have been long enough. Each summer season, the wild whales are in the area intermittently
for about 90 days. With the constraints of weather, equipment difficulties and the vagaries of locating the whales, Keiko spends no more than 60 days in
their vicinity. Over the last two summers, he has spent less than 3 months actually in the presence of other whales and this may indeed be a very short time for Keiko and whales to feel comfortable enough with each other to allow
him to permanently join a pod.

I think we too often try to evaluate the reintroduction process and its timetable in human terms without remembering that it is Keiko and the whales that must decide the real schedule. During these coming weeks we will continue to give Keiko every opportunity to join whales and we will observe and evaluate what takes place.

Only when the whales have moved on in their annual migration will we be in a position to evaluate what has occurred and make plans for next year. To be well prepared, we are already making sure that Klettsvik Bay is ready for another winter. In the months ahead we will also need to look to gathering the necessary infrastructure, human and financial resources to both give Keiko every possible chance for reintroduction and to ensure that he can
always have the quality of life he has in the natural environment of Klettsvik Bay.