A Whale of a Business
Air date: November 11, 1997
Produced by: Neil Docherty, Renata Simone
Correspondent: Linden MacIntyre
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] It was a dramatic media moment: in Newport, Oregon, in June this year, a celebrity weigh-in. Keiko, the killer whale, is a movie star whose health has become an international concern. There's good news. He's gained 2,000 pounds. Kids around the world call him "Willy." He starred in the movie, Free Willy, about a troubled little boy who befriends, then frees, a captive whale. For Keiko, reality is not so simple.
CHILD AT AQUARIUM: He really sees me!
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] He's still recovering from years of abuse, captive of an entranced, adoring public, his freedom the goal of a $15 million campaign by a group called the Free Willy Foundation.
DAVE PHILLIPS, Founder, Free Willy Keiko Foundation: Getting Keiko back to the wild has the potential for being such a breakthrough for all the whales that are in captivity right now.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] People who run marine theme parks have profound misgivings.
BRAD ANDREWS, V.P., Zoological Operations, Sea World: I just think that's a tremendous amount of money being raised on an animal that's not a very good candidate at all. I don't know. Is this truly in the best interests of that animal and the wild population? I don't think so.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Even critics of theme parks are skeptical.
SUSAN DAVIS, Ph.D., U.C. San Diego: I think that to free this whale is sentimentalization. It's some kind of a weird spectacle that's built around a celebrity animal.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The consequences releasing Keiko into the wild could be dire for him, but the prospect of his freedom raises even greater alarms in the billion-dollar industry that brought him here in the first place.
The marine zoo has become the hottest entertainment phenomenon since Disneyland, assembling the same elements of fantasy and kitsch. Nature, stripped of all that's wild and strange, becomes almost human in scale, behavior and personality.
This is a rare close-up of marine reality, a great gray whale who washed ashore in California in January this year. Sea World personnel are nursing him back to health and plan to set him free. Dr. Jim McBain, chief veterinarian, and Brad Andrews, Sea World zoological director, see him as a chance to highlight the zoo's more serious purpose, environmental education.
BRAD ANDREWS, V.P., Zoological Operations, Sea World: We're the only life form on Earth that can affect the outcome of other organisms on this Earth. And if we don't take a leading role in teaching people about how to affect that, were not going to have those animals around.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: But you make it sound like Noah's Ark, that it's entirely altruistic. This is big business.
BRAD ANDREWS: You know, big business
LINDEN MacINTYRE: This is a massive entertainment and amusement institution.
BRAD ANDREWS: Businesses that survive are businesses that make money. When you have 12 million visitors at the Sea World parks, you really have to impact that learning process on what they might learn about the environment, the animals, what they didn't know, but you have to do it in a very fun and entertaining way.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] And so the superstars at Sea World are the killer whales like Shamu, who's been entertaining here since 1969. Naturally, when Hollywood needed talent for a movie about a captive killer whale called Willy, the producers turned to Sea World. Jenny Lew Tugen.
JENNY LEW TUGEN, "Free Willy" Producer: The first thing you do when you're going to make a movie about a killer whale is to go find your killer whale, I mean, right? And so the obvious place we thought was Sea World. They're in the killer whale business. It was obvious.
BRAD ANDREWS: The producers wanted to shoot the picture here. And part of the movie actually had a good story to it because a child had an affinity to help an animal. And then it went off and did its own Hollywood ending.
JENNY LEW TUGEN: But they liked the project. They liked the idea of the project. They thought the essence of a family film was a nice, you know, type of film for them to be associated with. But the bottom line was that unless we were going to change the ending of our movie, they couldn't participate in a project that, in fact, was the antithesis of what they're about.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Lauren Schuler-Donner wasn't surprised by Sea World's ending.
LAUREN SCHULER-DONNER, "Free Willy" Executive Producer: Oh, that it went to a better aquarium, it went to a better place of captivity, like Sea World.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Sea World is sensitive about messages conveyed by Hollywood and anyone else who might influence how people perceive a business they dominate. Susan Davis of the University of California in San Diego found out why during the 10 years she spent researching a book on theme parks.
SUSAN DAVIS: Theme parks are money makers. That's why there's been a theme park building boom in this country for the past couple decades. I mean, I watched it over a lot of years and every year I thought it became more like a shopping mall. There really is an incredible clustering of all kinds of stores- souvenir stores, food concession stores, photo concession stores. This is a landscape that tells you, on the one hand, "If you come here, you'll be doing something good for the oceans," and "Consume, consume, consume, consume."
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Concessions alone have been said to generate nearly a million dollars a day in revenue at Sea World. But the beer is free- good public relations. Sea World is owned by the world's largest brewer. Anheuser-Busch bought the place in 1989.
SUSAN DAVIS: You have these wonderful theme parks that seem to do these great things for nature. It's family entertainment. It looks like a kind of green activism to go there. And you have the positioning of the company name, and in some cases the beer name, and it's not- you know, some people accuse Anheuser-Busch of using their theme parks to market beer to children. I think that's extreme. I think it's more subtle than that. I think what they're doing is creating powerful positive feeling about the company and the product among a very important audience, families with children.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The company makes no secret of it. Its annual report lists, among Sea World's high-minded goals - quote - "a positive setting in which to showcase our products" - unquote.
SUSAN DAVIS: The killer whales, especially, are the central spectacle in this amusement project. They are its Mickey Mouse.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: How important are the orcas to the economics of this facility?
BRAD ANDREWS, V.P., Zoological Operations, Sea World: Well, I think when you stop and look about- at killer whales or penguins or dolphins or any of the animals in our collection, they're priceless. They don't have a value, per se, in terms of a monetary exchange. There isn't one that's more valuable than another. My favorite animal is the walrus, so I would say 75 percent of our business is driven by walruses.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] But they didn't pick a walrus to adorn the corporate emblem, they picked the killer whale. Most of the visitors who come here confirm the prudence of that call. Former Sea World research director John Hall.
JOHN HALL, Former Sea World Research Director: Sea World estimated that 70 percent of every dollar that came through the gate was due to the presence of killer whales. If you wanted a strong cash flow to continue, you needed a steady supply of killer whales, especially if you're expanding and building new parks. You need whales to fill them up.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The popularity of killer whales is something new. They're members of the dolphin family, orcas, and they aren't killers. But as recently as 30 years ago, U.S. and Canadian fishermen off the northwest coast saw them as dangerous pests and shot them, the Navy used them for target practice- until this man, Ted Griffin, changed all that. He owned a small aquarium in Seattle and was scouting for bigger talent than his performing seals.
TED GRIFFIN, Namu's Trainer: I became fascinated with the whales that were in Puget Sound, but of course they were extremely dangerous and reportedly ate people. Of course, no one ever reported that after they'd been eaten but-
I began my quest for capturing a killer whale for public display and also as a personal pet. And one day I received a call from the town of Namu, British Columbia, and they informed me that a whale had accidentally been captured behind some nets that were cut free from a fishing boat in a storm. I went up and viewed the whale and really fell in love with the whale, if you will. So we typed up an agreement and I purchased the whale- of course, "As is," "Where is." And that's where it all began.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] He soon made a startling discovery that would change forever how people perceived the killer whale.
TED GRIFFIN: The first shock that I had was when I actually went underwater with the whale in the town of Namu to secure the pen. I don't know exactly how it happened. I might have just spiked myself on the knife or something and I went "Oh!"- just a little sound. And the whale immediately made a sound similar. Suddenly, I was in tears, in tears in my diving mask. I was- I couldn't believe what I actually was believing, that this animal was saying "Hi" in his own way.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] A star was born. He named him Namu, brought him to Seattle. Namu wouldn't last long in captivity, but his brief public life would inspire a whole new entertainment concept based on a new fascination with the whale.
TED GRIFFIN: I think it was a surprise to most people that the whale would be affectionate and friendly and accept the company of others.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The Namu story would end tragically. After a year, the polluted waters in the Puget Sound made him ill. Namu died, but not before an industry had been born.
TED GRIFFIN: I was resolved to have another pet. Couldn't do it. And so at that point, it was pretty much over for me. So I pulled things back together and started acting like a businessman and we captured whales for zoos and aquariums around the world, Japan, Germany, England, France, Canada and, of course, Sea World and others. [www.pbs.org: More on Ted Griffin]
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] He caught a lot of whales in the Pacific northwest, but he soon got out of the business, leaving his partner, Don Goldsberry, to pursue them all over the world.
As people caught more killer whales, we learned more about them: that they're highly social, matriarchal, travel great distances, up to 100 miles a day, have different dialects. Significantly, we discovered that there weren't nearly as many of them as people thought in the waters of the Pacific northwest.
Inevitably, controversial moral questions would emerge about their capture. Then a chance encounter upped the legal and political stakes. It involved Don Goldsberry, who was catching whales for Sea World, and the secretary of state for Washington, Ralph Munro, who was out sailing.
RALPH MUNRO, Former Washington Secretary of State: In 1975, we were within 50 yards, 75 yards, of the last capture in American waters of killer whales and we watched it. It was gruesome. There's no question about it. The permit read that the whales were supposed to swim tranquilly into a small cove and the cove would be netted off. They were chased, they were harassed and they were browbeaten into a purse seine net in the southern end of Puget Sound. It was illegal, it was dead wrong, and we were upheld by every judge that we stood before in our case.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] A whale capture is essentially a violent process. It shouldn't have been surprising that injury and death occurred frequently. But the details were only beginning to emerge in court.
RALPH MUNRO: We reached settlement only after testimony began to come into the courtroom in the trial about previous captures where lots of whales had died. And obviously, Sea World did not want these things revealed. They wanted to keep them hidden and they did not want to own up to the fact that they'd killed a lot of whales in the capture process.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] In the early '80s, governments began to restrict the capture of whales and other marine mammals. It created a dilemma for Sea World and the other marine parks: where to get talent for their shows and replacements for the many animals that died in captivity. They were going to have to find a new hunting ground.
JOHN HALL: They could no longer go to Puget Sound to get animals. By '84, things had gone to hell in a handcart in Alaska. They ran into massive political opposition there. So Alaska was out. Even though there were a lot of whales, Alaska was out. And the next place that seemed logistically feasible was Iceland.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Icelanders like Jon Gunnarsson were more than sympathetic to Sea World's dilemma. Killer whales were competition for the fish that sustain Iceland's fragile economy. Iceland would help them capture all the whales they wanted.
JON GUNNARSSON: That was a 10 years' period. We caught 32.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] And among the animals they caught there during the late '70s, a little fellow only nine feet long who would grow up to be the world's most famous killer whale.
JON GUNNARSSON: I believe Keiko, I'm not quite sure, was an animal of 3 meters and 20 centimeters. But we try to have them small because then they are easier to handle.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Keiko's career would follow a slow, unhappy curve. After a gig in Canada, he wound up in Mexico City. A marine park called Reina Aventura bought him for $100,000. He learned all the usual tricks. He grew to maturity here. But living conditions were poor: a small pool, warm water. His health suffered. Even his proud dorsal fin collapsed permanently. When Hollywood came calling, he was a sorry spectacle.
LAUREN SCHULER-DONNER, "Free Willy" Executive Producer: For me, it broke my heart. It was- it was the- it was life imitating art. It had a rash and it was always rubbing up against the sides to itch the rash. and its teeth was ground down. And he couldn't spy-hop because his tail hit the bottom.
JENNY LEW TUGEN, "Free Willy" Producer: Right. Right. He was longer than the tank was deep and so, you know, he would do this and flop over and it was very sad.
LAUREN SCHULER-DONNER: It was terrible.
JENNY LEW TUGEN: Very sad.
LAUREN SCHULER-DONNER: When we went down to Reina Aventura for the day- to begin shooting, the first day shooting, Jenny and I made a deal with each other that we would get him out of there. We couldn't stand it.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] In the movie, setting Willy free was easy. Getting Keiko free would take more than a Hollywood device and the producers took the unusual step of providing an 800 number among the movie credits. The Free Willy producers recruited environmentalist David Phillips to handle the 300,000 calls they got when the movie was released.
DAVE PHILLIPS, Founder, Free Willy Keiko Foundation: The switchboards completely lit up. We had phone services operating 24 hours a day, with kids calling in and parents calling in. Everybody wanted to get involved, what they could do for whales and what they could do for Keiko.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] One school raised $3,000 in pennies.
1st CHILD: I hope he comes to Newport safely and, you know, he gets a better life.
2nd CHILD: Go back into the ocean with his family.
3rd CHILD: Return him to the wild.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] But getting Keiko ready for the wild would cost more than pennies, it would cost millions. And it would take the services of a veterinarian who was considered to be the top whale doctor in the world, Lanny Cornell.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL, DVM, Keiko's Veterinarian: Three years ago, when I went to Mexico, we had an animal that was probably more than 2,000 pounds underweight. He could not dive to the bottom of the pool and hold his breath for more than three minutes and he'd come up to the top gasping for air. It was a very dramatic thing.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] When Keiko left Mexico, it was a far cry from Willy's dramatic leap to freedom. It was a high-tech, high-profile operation and a free ride from United Parcel Services all the way to Oregon and another pool. By the time he got here, the cost was already in the millions. Contributors were Warner Bros. Studios, the U.S. Humane Society and an anonymous $2 million donation. And there was still a huge cash shortfall. David Phillips.
DAVE PHILLIPS: We got Keiko to Oregon and we were $2 million short and they were trying to foreclose on the aquarium and jeopardize the whole- everything we had done. If we didn't have a guardian angel that came in with that kind of resources, we would have been stymied.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The guardian angel was Craig McCaw, source of the earlier anonymous donation. He'd sold his cell phone company for over $11 billion.
CRAIG McCAW, Board Member, Free Willy Keiko Foundation: If you convince several billion children that the whale got free by showing them very difficult conditions and, as it were, creating the case and making that case very compellingly on film, and then you don't fulfill that dream, you have broken a promise to children all over the world.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Keiko's performing days are over. After 18 years in show business, Keiko has gone into politics.
CRAIG McCAW: It wasn't worth, for one whale, the expenditure of so many millions of dollars if you weren't going to do the research and establish a facility and make it possible for others to follow and enjoy the benefits of his good fortune.
DAVE PHILLIPS: McCaw's a visionary. He's not thinking about this in terms of one little facility and one whale. He's thinking about what this will mean for other whales, what this will mean for other whales in captivity, what this will mean about the public's attitude towards the whole idea of bringing these animals into captivity in the first place.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Who knew, back in the days of television innocence, that Flipper would inspire passion among animal rights activists in the '90s and, of all people, the trainer who taught her most of her endearing tricks.
RIC O'BARRY, International Dolphin Project: You have to remember, I was probably the highest-paid animal trainer in the world during that period. It's very easy to lull yourself into complacency when you're getting a new Porsche every year and, you know, just living a great lifestyle and have your blinders on. To be perfectly blunt, I was as ignorant as I could be for as long as I could be.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] For Ric O'Barry, the blinders came off when the program ended and all the props went into storage, including Cathy, the dolphin who played Flipper. Eighteen months later, O'Barry got a phone call that changed his life.
RIC O'BARRY: I remember going out there that day and it was a very hot day and she was black from sunburn because she spent most of her time on the surface of the water. Her fin was bent just like Keiko's. That's why they're bent, gravity. That's nature saying there's something wrong here. They travel underwater, where there's no gravity. And so she swam over and looked me right in the eye, took a breath and just held it. You know, just held it. Well, she sank to the bottom of the tank. I jumped in and pulled her to the surface. She committed suicide. The tank- the tank is a bad thing. So that's why I'm an abolitionist.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] O'Barry has become a hard-liner against animal captivity, part of a militant movement that is carefully monitoring the campaign to free Keiko, not happy that Keiko is still living in a tank, but suspending judgment for the moment. He makes Craig McCaw nervous.
CRAIG McCAW: We think the politics on this are frightening, in that there are so many people with so many polarized views, and we're scared to death of all the people with strong opinions. And we're just going to try to do the right thing and stay as neutral as we can in the process.
PROTESTER: Free Corky! Free Corky!
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The people with strong opinions are never far away. Already killer whales like Keiko and Sea World's Corky are on the liberationists' agenda. Ben White is a guerrilla warrior against animal exploitation.
BEN WHITE, Animal Welfare Institute: [at protest] Freedom! This isn't right! Don't finance cruelty! Don't go to Marineland~
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] He believes animal captivity degrades humans.
BEN WHITE: What does it do to us to be able to be so violent that we would go and grab these animals and then starve them until they're willing to take dead fish from us? And imagine, especially in the case of orcas, you have the most amazing predator that's ever existed in the seas and we get it so it will beg dead fish from us and let us stand on its face. What does that do to our humanity?
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Sea World's Jim McBain.
Dr. JIM McBAIN: I consider that a very cynical point of view. We can't all go on ecotours. Everybody isn't capable of doing that. And I think that everybody deserves the opportunity to be able to experience those very special things in life that are very meaningful to them as individuals. And for children, I think these experiences are a lifetime of value. The reason people keep coming back, it's the educational side. They learn something. There's- there's depth.
MARINE PARK PERFORMER: Killer whales have very soft and sensitive skin and this is the best way to start building a relationship with an 8,000-pound killer whale! What do you think of-
CRAIG McCAW: I believe that animals have a role in education, but that we should not imprison them unduly in that process, perhaps not imprison them, in that sense, at all.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The Human Society's Naomi Rose.
NAOMI ROSE: There's just no way that a facility can provide for these animals. They live in family groups. They have the whole ocean and the very, very rich environment the ocean provides. And then what you do in captivity, because of the their health concerns and because of hygiene, you put them into a swimming pool, into a sterile environment. They're completely sonic creatures. They have echo-location. Their passive listening is just far superior to ours. And so to put them into a concrete environment where there's simply no variety, no texture, no substance, no depth to the environment- why use their echolocation? They know where the four walls are.
1st MARINE PARK VISITOR: You're so pretty!
2nd MARINE PARK VISITOR: Oh, she likes that!
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Sea World has about half of all the killer whales currently in captivity and they don't plan to change that any time soon. [www.pbs.org: Report on global captivity]
BRAD ANDREWS, V.P., Zoological Operations, Sea World: We're not going to release any of the animals in our collection because they have been in our collection for long periods of time and we're not going to put them at risk where they can die.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Keiko's liberators must also deal with such a risk and they've hired the famous whale doctor to help them, a pioneer in breeding and caring for whales in captivity. But Dr. Lanny Cornell spent a lot of his career at Sea World and the part he played in capturing most of their whales makes him a lightning rod for criticism from animal activists. But he refuses to discuss those years.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: You need to talk to Sea World about anything that happened at Sea World. That is Sea World's business, not mine.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Dr. Cornell's colleague at Sea World was John Hall.
JOHN HALL, Former Sea World Research Director: Lanny ran the show and he is a very much top-down guy. I mean, from a management style, you know, it's not a- it's a consensus of one. Lanny say, we do. So anything that happened, and I mean almost down to a gnat's eyelash- anything that happened was authorized and approved and in many cases thought up by Lanny.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] One of the big projects he ran for Sea World was in Iceland: renovation of an old aquarium to hold captured killer whales, a highly sensitive project even then. John Hall remembers the secrecy.
JOHN HALL: Lanny marked up the blueprints- "No, I want- I want this door here. And I want this opening in the roof, here. And I want it this long and this wide," and that sort of thing, "And I don't want to spend more than" I think it was a $150,000 "on this construction program, where we'll hold the animals short-term," and then turned to me and said, "You didn't see any of this. You didn't hear any of this. You weren't here."
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Secrecy made sense, considering that they were in Iceland's waters, because public hostility had helped drive them out of the whaling grounds closer to home. Sea World eventually became so sensitive about its presence there, they ordered the corporate identity to be removed from whaling gear.
One incident stands out in the memory of a former first mate on a whaling vessel, Herbert Magnusson.
HERBERT MAGNUSSON: "We should not have these block letters showing," yes.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Who did- who was it that wanted the letters removed? Who didn't-
HERBERT MAGNUSSON: Sea World themselves.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The veteran whale chaser, Don Goldsberry and Jim Antrim, Sea World's vice president, were on the ship when that message arrived.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Don Goldsberry and Jim Antrim from Sea World get a phone call advising them to remove all markings identifying Sea World from the equipment or the boat. What was that all about?
BRAD ANDREWS, V.P., Zoological Operations, Sea World: No idea.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: There's nothing in the-
Dr. JIM McBAIN, DVM, Director of Veterinary Medicine, Sea World: First I head of it.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: -corporate memory of the place that would shed any light on that?
BRAD ANDREWS: Uh-uh.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] But perhaps like the holding tank in Iceland, it was about perceptions, avoiding the growing public disapproval of taking animals from the wild. Over the years, they would become increasingly cautious. Jon Gunnarsson.
JON GUNNARSSON: I just know that they could not buy killer whales direct from seamen. So maybe in some cases they had to get other people to buy the whales and buy the animals from that person later on.
JOHN HALL, Former Sea World Research Director: The whole reason to move them to a third country, from Iceland to Canada or Holland, before they came to the U.S. was to give Sea World time to apply for U.S. permits to import the animals as already captive whales. They would suggest that these whales had been captured by someone and were being held in these aquaria and they were either going to buy them and transfer them to their much better facilities or they were going to do some kind of a breeding loan and bring them in on a breeding loan into their much better facilities, much larger, much more modern facilities. But the reality was that Sea World caught them in the first place.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Consider the contortions Sea World went through to get this killer whale to the United States from Holland. In 1987, Dr. Lanny Cornell wrote to Holland to arrange to get her for a breeding loan, which was all perfectly straightforward and legal. In exchange, he sent three animals called pseudorcas, or false killer whales, to the zoo in Holland. But they were from an unrelated aquarium in Kamagawa, Japan.
Which begs a question: What kind of arrangement would enable Sea World, USA, to acquire an animal in Holland, using animals from a zoo in Japan as payment?
BRAD ANDREWS: I don't- I haven't seen that type of paperwork. The only paperwork that I was open to, and that is in our record books today, are the different governmental exchanges of the animals going from one facility to another. If Sea World had the opportunity to transfer- you can't transfer somebody else's animals unless you buy them or you're going to give them something for them in the future.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: If I'm working for Sea World, acquiring a killer whale from an aquarium in Holland, and I'm trading with pseudorcas from a facility in Japan, it's reasonable to draw the conclusion that I own the ones in Japan.
BRAD ANDREWS: And how did you own the ones in Japan? Did you purchase them from the owners there?
LINDEN MacINTYRE: That's a good question. I don't know the answer.
BRAD ANDREWS: Well, I don't either..
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] He should have known about the deal. We've since discovered airline documents confirming that Brad Andrews and Dr. Jim McBain were in Japan with Lanny Cornell to move the whales.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Isn't it possible that the animals were basically stored in Japan for a rainy day by somebody representing Sea World USA?
BRAD ANDREWS: I have no idea.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Is it reasonable, I mean, or logical?
BRAD ANDREWS: Again, I have no idea. Why would somebody store animals for a rainy day? I don't store animals in somebody else's facility for a rainy day and the implication I resent.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Well, how could Dr. Lanny Cornell have brokered such a deal with Japan?
BRAD ANDREWS: I think you ought to ask him. I don't know. I haven't the slightest idea.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: Well, you should talk to Sea World about that, if they have that information.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Well, I already did and then- and they said you should- they said we should talk to Dr. Cornell.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: Well, you should talk to Sea World about it because that's a Sea World transaction.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: I presume I'm dealing with a perfectly--
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: Let me- let me just say this. Nothing illegal transpired, okay?
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Exactly.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: So- so-
LINDEN MacINTYRE: So why can't you talk about it?
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: Because it happens to be Sea World business and not my business.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Brad Andrews, whom you know, when I asked him "How could Lanny Cornell broker an arrangement between Sea World and Kamagawa, Japan, and Harderwijk?" "I think you ought to ask him. I don't know. I haven't the slightest idea." Now, that seems to be- and that's in writing.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: Well, probably because he wasn't involved in the process. So why don't you-
LINDEN MacINTYRE: He was involved in the process. He was on the-
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: So if you go- [crosstalk] Why don't you call- you call Sea World- Sea World's-
LINDEN MacINTYRE: He was on the airplane with you guys.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: Contact Sea World's offices and ask them if they want me to discuss this with you and I certainly will.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] In a subsequent letter, Sea World's parent company refused, saying Lanny Cornell's employment was before they owned the theme parks.
False killer whales, like the ones Sea World traded from Japan, are popular performers, if not as glamorous as their charismatic cousins. But the way they're captured raises uncomfortable questions for marine parks. The Humane Society's Naomi Rose.
NAOMI ROSE, Ph.D., Marine Mammologist, Humane Society: The dirty little secret of a public display industry is that to remove these animals from the wild is an outrageously traumatic, violent process. It turns out that almost every false killer whale- and they're not very common in captivity here in the United States, but there are a few. There's about 20 or 30. And every single one of those animals, it turns out, came from Japan and they came from the Japanese drive fisheries.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The drive fishery is a spectacle of startling brutality. It's a traditional method in Japan at places like Iki Island for culling dolphins and false killer whales for their meat or simply to control their numbers.
NAOMI ROSE: It's a horrible blood bath. It's an absolute slaughter. They are mammals. They do have large brains. They do experience extremely strong emotions. And so it's just a- it's a terrible, terrible scene and just- I mean I- I can't stand watching that footage anymore. It's so horrible to watch them trying to kill these animals because they're so difficult to kill.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] They've been doing it for generations, driving animals into tight enclosures where they could easily be slaughtered. But as the market for performing animals developed with the expansion of the marine park industry, it became a natural place to find good-looking animals with potential for performance. Now, before the blood bath, there's a reprieve for some. It's called captivity.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: The drive fishery's really not an inhumane way to catch animals, in my estimation. However, the fact that they are killed and eaten afterwards is, in my estimation, not the thing to do. And so I would say that if I had an opportunity to save the life of an animal under those circumstances, I'd be happy to do it.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Video recorded just last year reveals graphically what happens to the animals that aren't saved. After they're killed, black marketeers will process and sell them as whale meat. Others will simply rot on the shore.
JOHN HALL, Former Sea World Research Director: A number of people have been to Iki for or on behalf of Sea World, including Brad Andrews, the current zoological director- because Brad went in 1987. In the spring of '87, Brad went. Sea World thought it- it might as well draw upon the capabilities of the Iki Island fishermen, this Okigami drive fishery, as a source of animals, especially as a source of false killer whales.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The false killer whales at Kamagawa, including those traded by Sea World for the killer whale from Holland, were caught like this, raising ethical questions for the industry.
[interviewing] -because, I mean, a critic has suggested that maybe Sea World may have contributed, you know, to the drive fishery by virtue of taking animals out of that-
BRAD ANDREWS: How can somebody say that, when you save the animal's life? And how could you possibly be perpetuating a cultural activity in another country? Subsistence hunting goes on in the Arctic. Walruses are killed every year. Animals are killed all over the world for food, marine mammals. If you can rescue one of those animals from one of these types of programs, I tend to think that you've saved the animal's life.
NAOMI ROSE: When representatives from the public display industry claim that they're rescuing animals from the drive fishery, I find that so unbelievably disingenuous of them, so self-serving. And if you're going to be so deliberately naive as to say, "Oh, we're going to pay thousands of dollars for each animal to rescue them," make the connection. That's an incentive to these guys to go out and make more animals to rescue.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] While Sea World hasn't taken animals from the drive fisheries since 1989, the world market for marine animals is growing rapidly, especially in Asia. And so are prices. These animals, caught earlier this year, fetched a reported quarter million dollars each. Video shot for FRONTLINE in Japan shows the capture of a family of 10 killer whales. Five were soon released. Five went straight to Japanese aquariums. Within months, two of them were dead. [www.pbs.org: School children witness a drive]
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Wouldn't your prestige be better applied to raising a loud voice in protest against such a practice?
BRAD ANDREWS: I think what we do, in terms of talking about the animals and educating people about drive fisheries or where the animals come from, has a profound impact on the future look at conservation in other countries. But it doesn't make it any easier to say, "Well we're not going to save that animal's life because we're going to prove a point." And I guess I'm curious. What does this have to do with Keiko?
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Just that Keiko's future is in the hands of someone who spent most of his career managing the captivity of animals. Perhaps an ironic choice, unless he's undergone conversion.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: Oh, I don't think there's any conversion. I don't think it's ironic at all. I think it's what I do. I'm a veterinarian. My life has been dedicated from the beginning of working with these animals in- first in captive situations, to seeing to it that they have proper facilities, that they had large enough facilities for them to- to swim in, that they were able to reproduce in captivity, that their life was as close to normal as we can possibly make it in a captive environment.
And having Keiko return to the wild, to me, is- if he's given the opportunity- is simply a matter of carrying out that same dedication to the animal's welfare. If that's what is good for the animal in this particular case, then I think that I- I have no problem with that. I don't see any conflict at all. This is- this is my job.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Keiko is thriving under Dr. Cornell's care. The skin disease he caught in Mexico is gone.
AQUARIUM STAFFER: See? The scar tissue all around here, it's all sloughed off.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] He weighs nearly 10,000 pounds. The quality of his captivity has definitely improved. And with Dr. Lanny Cornell looking after him, the activists are getting restless.
RIC O'BARRY, International Dolphin Project: Most of the debating I do is with Lanny Cornell, or used to do. He worked for Sea World, you know. He was the vice president and a veterinarian. And of course he was very, very pro-captive- we called him Mr. Pro-captivity
BEN WHITE, Animal Welfare Institute: He was the architect of setting up a connection between Sea World and the drive fishery slaughter in Japan. I think the man is drenched in blood. And if he has changed his spots so much that he now wants Keiko out, I will be amazed. But I, for one- the greatest step forward to me, Free Willy Keiko Foundation could make to show us they're really going to release that whale is to release Lanny Cornell now.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: Well, actually, I don't have any say in whether he goes back to the wild or not. This is going to be done by the-
LINDEN MacINTYRE: Well, he ain't going back if you don't say he can.
Dr. LANNY CORNELL: This- this is going to be a- a decision made by the- by the people at the Free Willy Keiko Foundation that are in charge of this- of this animal's life. I'm one voice out of many and there'll be many scientists involved in giving us advice as to whether this should happen or not.
RIC O'BARRY: If you know how this captivity thing works, you know that the veterinarian is like God. They're tin gods. Whatever they say is the way it's going to go. I don't care how many people on the board of directors say "Let's free Willy," it's up to the doctor. The doctor knows best and that's Lanny Cornell. And I predict as long as he's involved, this dolphin, Keiko, will be in captivity and marketed for the rest of his life.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Keiko has become a marketing phenomenon. In his two years at the Oregon aquarium, there's been a booming trade in Keiko products, a variety of consumables limited only by the fertile marketing imagination. The turnover is more than the Oregon aquarium has ever seen before. Before Keiko got here, the big attractions were the usual assortment of cute seals and playful otters. The major stars, and the favorite exhibit of director Phyllis Bell, were the jellyfish.
PHYLLIS BELL, Director, Oregon Coast Aquarium: We didn't understand, I guess, the celebrity of this whale. We knew he was a movie star and he was in the movie, Free Willy. We didn't understand how many people really cared about what happened to him. We were bombarded with people.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] The money people pay is split. The aquarium owns Keiko's home; the Free Willy Foundation owns Keiko.
PHYLLIS BELL: It's $2 million, probably, for them, that we transfer to them, and about $2 million in excess for us.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] In real life, unlike in the Willy movie, his appeal to children seems to reinforce his captivity. He has become a major asset to his keepers, which is a potential problem in the eyes of those who are committed to his freedom. Craig McCaw of the Free Willy Foundation.
CRAIG McCAW, Board Member, Free Willy Keiko Foundation: It is not in the aquarium's interest for Keiko to be free. The tremendous- we have a massive rise in visitors to the aquarium because of Keiko. We understand that. They understand that and there's a lot of money at stake. And we have felt that perhaps the aquarium was not doing everything it could to possibly bring about the release of Keiko to his highest level.
PHYLLIS BELL: Well, it depends on how- if Keiko's ready to be released or not. We always have supported their goal of releasing Keiko, if it was possible and if that was the best thing for Keiko. We just want the best thing for Keiko. So if the best thing is not releasing him, then he's welcome to stay here. [www.pbs.org: Read Keiko's story and update]
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] He's been living among humans for over 18 years. Instinctive survival skills have been recrafted into performance skills.
Dr. JIM McBAIN, DVM, Director of Veterinary Medicine, Sea World: Keiko is not a good candidate. He's been dependent upon humans for his food, his interaction. He's an animal that's adapted to living in an oceanarium environment and has done so successfully for many years. He's an animal that's also deprived of social experience. He doesn't live with other killer whales. To try to somehow train this animal to then go and survive in the wild doesn't make a lot of sense. He can't possibly benefit the wild population.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Keeping Keiko where he is would make a lot of people happy, maybe even Keiko. But he is now part of a larger political reality.
BEN WHITE, Animal Welfare Institute: Well, there are a whole lot of people in the world that are looking at this process and are they really going to do what they say they are? And I think the clock is ticking. They say Keiko will go to a sea pen in the spring. We'll see. If he does, good. That's a step up. And then when is he going to be let out of the sea pen? When is he going to go back with his family? Almost every facet of what they plan on doing concerns me.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] But the wild is full of mystery for an animal who has spent most of his life in the care of humans, and full of challenges like how to feed himself.
1st TRAINER: Go ahead.
2nd TRAINER: Okay, there's one on the bottom there. Come on, Keiko. Do it. Do it, Keiko.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] This killer whale clearly lacks the killer instinct. His trainers in the Oregon aquarium are trying to teach the world's deadliest marine predator how to catch and eat a fish which happens to be alive.
2nd TRAINER: Come on, Keiko. Come on. Come on. Oh! A little late. A little late. He's going to [unintelligible] on it. Come on, Keiko!
3rd TRAINER: He knows it now.
2nd TRAINER: This is it, buddy. Come on. Come on. Come on! Come on! Come on! Come on!
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] This is where he started life. The Free Willy Foundation hope to take him back, even to his original family.
DAVE PHILLIPS, Founder, Free Willy Keiko Foundation: We know where he was caught. We know where we'd like to put him back. But we've got to have the permission of the Icelandic government to do that and right now the Icelandic government is not entirely in favor. They're somewhere between "No" and "Hell, no!"
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] And here's why: whale meat. And it's scarce.
CHEF: Thirteen shashimi, whale meat and fish, and thirteen whale pepper steak.
NARRATOR: This delicacy is from the last whale hunt in 1989. The chefs of Iceland want more.
CHEF: People come special over to Iceland to look a the whales swimming and I say people came here to Iceland and this restaurant, 11,000 or 12,000, to eat whale meat.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Iceland wants to hunt whales again. Fisheries minister Horsteinn Palsson.
HORSTEINN PALSSON, Minister of Fisheries, Iceland: It's our policy to resume whaling and we have decided to do so. And we realize that it takes time and we have to- to get in this game step by step.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] There are no plans to hunt killer whales. They have no value as food. But the last thing Icelanders want is a celebrity killer whale like Keiko in their waters. And the last time they were officially asked to take one back, in 1992, the answer was unambiguous. [on screen: -"neither the return of this killer whale nor the return of others now in captivity will be authorized." Ministry of Fisheries, May 7, 1992.]
LINDEN MacINTYRE: How realistic is the campaign to repatriate Keiko back into Icelandic waters? Just how realistic is that process?
HORSTEINN PALSSON: You know, the answer- what the answer was some years ago.
LINDEN MacINTYRE: "No." The answer was "No."
HORSTEINN PALSSON: It was "No."
LINDEN MacINTYRE: [voice-over] Keiko doesn't seem unhappy where he is, in Oregon, getting his three square meals a day without having to work too hard for it. He may one day return to the wild, but the wild may prove to be a lot more difficult to get to than anybody thought, and a lot more expensive, which may become a problem for some, but not for Keiko's guardian angel, the billionaire Craig McCaw.
CRAIG McCAW, Board Member, Free Willy Keiko Foundation: But if we fall short, I'm sure I'll be able to find the money to make it happen. This will not be stopped for lack of money.
ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE's report continues online, where marine mammal experts debate the pros and cons of releasing Keiko. FRONTLINE reports on Navy dolphins used for surveillance, plus more of the investigation into the marine park industry and what happened to Namu and Flipper and other famous marine mammals and much more. FRONTLINE on line at www.pbs.org.
VOICEOVER FOR PREVIEW DURING CREDITS:
Next time on FRONTLINE:
1st EXPERT: I always believed the press would kill her in the end.
ANNOUNCER: The day the princess died, media everywhere came under attack.
2nd EXPERT: Completely tasteless. They were totally intrusive.
ANNOUNCER: But the real story is more haunting and complex than you could imagine.
3rd EXPERT: She has opened this enormous can of worms for her own purposes.
4th EXPERT: Once you open that door to the media, you can never close it again.
ANNOUNCER: The fatal embrace between "The Princess and the Press" next time on FRONTLINE.
A WHALE OF A BUSINESS
CNN Image Source
Lifeforce/ Peter Hamilton
Ted Griffin and
Small World Productions,Seattle
CBC EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
CBC SENIOR PRODUCER
SPECIAL THANKS TO
The Sandler Family
The Graduate School
of Journalism, U.C. Berkeley
POST PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
POST PRODUCTION PRODUCER
Mary G. Rabinow
Julie A. Parker
LoConte Goldman Design
The Caption Center
SENIOR STAFF ASSOCIATE
Lee Ann Donner
WEBSITE RESEARCH ASSISTANT
SENIOR EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
A FRONTLINE coproduction with
WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Now it's time for your letters. Our program on the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, drew passionate responses from many sides of this conflict.
ROBERT THOMAS: [Roswell, GA]
When did PBS become a propaganda arm of the British government? Have we so easily forgotten our own American history, when Britain had its colonial boot upon our neck? The six counties of Northern Ireland are nothing more than a British colony struggling to free themselves from the yoke of British oppression.
CHARLES CARTWRIGHT: [Minneapolis, MN]
Once again, presumably intelligent journalists have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by those who represent mass murderers. The IRA is not and never will be interested in peace.
ROGER ALEXANDER: [Montrose, CO]
It isn't easy to distill centuries of strife and hatred into a two-hour program, but you managed to do so without losing the essence of "the Troubles." While I cannot fully support the violence of the IRA, I cannot totally condemn it, either. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
ANNOUNCER: Tell us what you thought about tonight's program by fax [(617) 254-0243], by email [FRONTLINE@PBS.ORG] or by the U.S. mail [DEAR FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134].
Copyright / 1997 WGBH Educational Foundation