interviewInterview with Craig McCaw
a billionaire cell phone entrepreneur who has contributed more than $3 million to Keiko's rehabilitation project which could lead to the killer whale being released into the wild.



WHAT ARE THE COSTS INVOLVED IN TRYING TO FREE KEIKO? NOT JUST HOW MUCH MONEY THE COMPANY AND YOU PERSONALLY HAVE INVESTED, BUT THE RESOURCES, THE PERSONNEL, THE PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR YOU.

Our contribution comes in two forms: one is a contribution of about $3.1 million from the Craig and Wendy McCaw Foundation. And in addition, my operating company provides four active board members and a substantial amount of the support behind this, to make sure that the foundation as it were has the money to make this happen.

Warner Bros. provided about the same amount of money, so approxie or become as free as humanly has agreed to provide approximately $1 million. And so that's sort of what got us to critical mass and paid for Keiko's tank. And his transport. A whole bunch of other people of course have made contributions of all types and there are tiles representing people from all over the world in Newport on the side of his building. And so the contribution comes from many places, contributions in kind, etc.

And to get him free and to continue the research we of course will still need more money to make that happen, but I think we're very much on the downhill slope and luckily we have no debt per se and so. And he's an interesting guy and so he occasionally gets a movie rights or rights that help us along the way.

SOMEBODY SAYS, THIS IS A LOT OF MONEY TO SPEND ON A WHALE.

In our mind it would be inappropriate, no matter how popular Keiko was and no matter how big children's dreaming was, to spend so much money on one whale if more was not going to come of it. And we believe, this is all about scientific research, really understanding what's possible, understanding his family, where his family is, how they communicate, how the family unit works and they're transient killer whales so as it were it's not going to be easy. They move roughly from Iceland up well into Scandinavia, so we have a distance of 1,000 plus miles to look for the family and then to understand how this can all happen. But clearly others will benefit. And moreover, I think in going through the process we'll understand ourselves more of the right and wrong of this. And how to do it.

IS THAT RIGHT AND WRONG IN OUR RELATIONSHIP TO ANIMALS ?

Not only that, but the right and wrong of trying to release a killer whale that's been in captivity or abused or even the question of trying to save the life of one that for natural reasons has been injured, beached or whatever. Hit by a boat, whatever might happen to them. So, what role should we play in it? And what role is appropriate and would work?

AND FOR THOSE WHO WOULD SAY, THAT'S A HECK OF A LOT OF MONEY

TO SPEND ON A WHALE-- HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER BACK?

I'd agree, it's absolutely a lot of money to spend on a whale and that's not what this is all about. This is about doing the research, doing the educational processes, establishing in people's mind that there is a better way to handle a situation like this, than as it were the extreme flash cut of throwing him out in the water or as it were leaving him pining in a tank. So that's what we're about.

HOW DID THIS ALL START - THE PLANS TO TRY TO SET KEIKO FREE?

I became aware of the fact that the people who were working to release Willy--Keiko in real life--were having trouble in finding the money and bringing it about. And in my mind there was no question that the moral imperative was created by the movie. 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 compelingly on film and then you don't fulfill that dream you have broken a promise to children all over the world.

Further it seemed to me morally that given everything the whale had been through that we as humans owed Keiko his freedom and that if we could take a role and I could personally take a role, then I should. Because it didn't seem to me that it was that difficult to raise the money to free someone like this, given the tremendous global popularity of this one creature, this one being with a brain as big as mine, who had suffered tremendously in their life.

WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE ONCE YOU STARTED TO GET INVOLVED?

Well, we kept it relatively quiet within the company itself, as this was really more of an individual family effort on my part and so those involved of course found it very compelling. Anyone with children or an interest in the mind of children knew how important it was, so there would be plenty of people to volunteer to help, but what we of course needed was the wisdom to bring it about in a way that would not as it were upset the captive industry, the owners of the park or the people at Warner or the producers of the film.

SO, HOW DID YOU CHOOSE A PATH?

Well, essentially it became an issue of finding what was a practical way to use existing facilities so that we didn't have to do too much and in that process we looked around to see where there might be a facility that could take Keiko, ideally with an existing tank that was large enough as it were not to simply repeat where he had been and ultimately that came up short, but rather than creating a specific facility just for Keiko, the idea came about to put him in Newport, in an existing aquarium site, with space that a tank could be built and that was near cold, salt water that was fresh and as it were safe to be in.

I'M SO STRUCK BY YOUR THOUGHTS THAT IT'S THE MORALLY RIGHT THING TO DO BECAUSE OF THE CHILDREN'S EXPECTATIONS. CAN GIVE ME A SENSE OF THE BIGGER PICTURE AND HOW DOES KEIKO RELATE?

I think we have a basic issue of what's right and wrong in the capture of creatures and mammals as intelligent as we are, such as the cetaceans, dolphins and orca, etc. There's no question that in this case the line was very blurred, that children believed that the whale went free. And we're clearly going to be very disappointed if he didn't get free. And so as adults we almost owed that basic truth. But beyond that, there was of course the issue - is it right?

He's beyond the point that he could reasonably perform. He's too old and as it were now a retirement age - were we going to leave him in unfortunate conditions or were we actually going to try to get him home to his family? And it would have been very easy just to move him to another tank and a very nice place, as it were a retirement home, but he would have been alone as he had been all of his life, lonesome, with basically no companionship. So that didn't seem to fulfill any reasonable fairness for him.

So we took it to that point and of course we were evaluating the question and we asked the question, what is fair?. What is right? And I've equated this to aliens from outer space coming to humans and saying, we would like to take some of you, or in fact taking some of us, and how would we react if they wanted to study us. And would it be that different.

The orcas swim in space that we don't very well understand and of course in outer space we will face some day the moral dilemma of how to deal with aliens who land on earth, perhaps, if in fact what people believe is true- and we will have the same moral dilemma in exchanging people or creatures back and forth with them for understanding.

What is right and to what degree should it be voluntary or not voluntary or for the good of society, theirs or ours? So we're on the cusp of some very difficult issues that we frankly aren't going to escape very easily. But it's quite clear to us that these are extremely intelligent creatures. That dolphins and killer whales are very much like us only with fins and there is a certain amount of mutual understanding that comes from this exchange.

But then there's a basic ethical question: how much is appropriate and under what circumstances? In this process, we didn't have to make that decision with Keiko. It was clear, we had the moral imperative, we wanted him to be free. And further we could establish a fairness that perhaps when a killer whale at the very least gets to that age, they ought to be returned to their home and their family if at all humanly possible.

And it appears to us quite clearly that can be done. That these creatures can be returned and however long their life span is to be is at least where they as it were with their family and with others they might choose to be with. And so at the very least, we're going to try to do the right thing here and see if it doesn't work out.

ONCE YOU GOT INTO THE PROJECT, WHAT, IF ANY, SURPRISES WERE THERE?

Well, the key surprises I think for everyone were the difficulty of getting Keiko actually out of Mexico, out of the facility and dealing with all the very complex processes, including the fear of the captive industry that this was going to become a public relations boondoggle, or nightmare for them and the whole moral question being raised at a level that was very difficult. Certainly money has always been an issue and making sure that there was enough money to do this right has been difficult and getting others to support it.

But as it turned out, they were willing and the Mexican people were willing to release him as it were to start his voyage home, but as you may know maybe the most difficult moment was when the bearings froze as he was going into the airplane and he well might have died then and there as they couldn't get him either in or out.

BY THE WAY, HAVE YOU MET HIM?

Yes.

WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?

Well clearly it is a spiritual experience to see someone that you have so much of an opinion about in general and who has established this identity in a movie, and they take on as it were a personality perhaps bigger than life. When I first met him, he was clearly very sick and to see him today is completely different and as it were it's like seeing someone getting out of a prison camp and then doing better. And not in the sense that people were abusing him purposely, but he was just very sick in this environment and so you see as it were a feeble being trying to explore the life beyond and learning that there is something different still.



next


home .  viewer discussion .  the debate .  inside seaworld .  interviews .  keiko .  slaughter
other captive orcas .  ted griffin .  navy dolphins .  man & marine mammals .  laws
press reaction .  tapes & transcripts

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

pbs online

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Losing IraqJuly 29th

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS