Keiko, the real-life Willy, is, sadly, not on screen in “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home.” He languishes in a tank at a facility in Mexico in a too-small tank and without fresh seawater. Afflicted with a skin disease that might be contagious to other whales, there are plans to have him transported to the United States and eventually returned to the wild.
Massive international efforts are underway to raise $10 million for the project. If successful, it would be the first time a captive Orca whale has been rehabilitated and returned to the wild.
Keiko’s story is a good deal more dramatic than anything in either “Free Willy” movies. Born about 16 years ago in the waters off the southeast coast of Iceland, he was captured when he was between 12 and 24 months old.
Originally transported to Marineland in Ontario, Canada, he performed for audiences there until 1985. At that time he was sold to Reino Aventura in Mexico City and has lived there ever since.
Following his appearance in the 1993 movie “Free Willy,” international attention was leveled at his plight.
Presently under construction at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Ore. is a two-million-gallon deep water pool that is designed to be Keiko’s new home. If all goes according to plan, he will be transported, via jet plane, from Mexico to Oregon in December.
Dr. Lanny Cornell, who will direct the veterinary care program in Oregon, claims that the risk in moving the whale is minor but that the risks in retraining him to survive in the wild are more tricky. “We won’t really know how well he can adjust until after the move but a strong, male orca of his age should have an excellent chance to survive in the wild - if we can overcome all his problems.”
Keiko’s skin condition has to be cured because, currently, it could be contagious to other whales.