interviewINTERVIEW WITH DAVE PHILLIPS

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WHEN CRAIG MACAW STEPPED IN, AT WHAT POINT WAS THAT?

Craig McCaw stepped in pretty early. He actually contacted Warner Bros. after the movie came out and he said "If you guys ever get a plan together to try to do something for this whale, I might be convinced to come in". But he also had some provisos.

He wasn't just going to throw in for moving Keiko to a captive facility where Keiko was going to stay there the rest of his life. Craig was also interested very similarly in the mission of trying to get Keiko back out to the wild.

He was not real wild about some of the display facilities, Sea World type facilities that really had more of a kind of exploitative model about them, so Craig wanted to do something different. He had that same vision of doing something bold and something that hadn't been done before and trying to really break new ground for captive animals.

AND, DID HE HELP YOU IN TRYING TO FIND A SITE FOR KEIKO TO COME TO?

Some of his people were involved in the site selections, yes. We had a little entourage that had Warner Bros., people and Macaw people and ourselves that were looking at a few sites until we kind of found the place we wanted.

HOW DID YOU PICK OREGON COAST?

We picked Oregon Coast because we wanted a place that was on the coast, because we wanted natural cold sea water, which is what Keiko needs. We wanted a place where we could build our own facility as opposed to having him in with others because of the fear of contagion. We wanted a place that had a philosophical orientation like ours. That wasn't really into the idea of stadium seating and displays and the Oregon Coast had no whales and dolphins. In fact they didn't even want whales and dolphins when we went there. They didn't want to be kind of in that crowd of the theme parks that rely on captive cetaceans So we approached them and talked about this idea of building this new place and it really met all our criteria.

WHO PAID FOR IT?

The facility was, it was a combination of money that we got from Warner Bros., and money that we raised from the public and school children , and money that we got from the Macaws, all came together.

WHERE DID THE MONEY COME FROM AND THEN WHERE DID IT GO?

Well, we needed about $8 million to get the facility done and get Keiko there and we ended up raising a little more than half of that before Keiko arrived from the Macaw Foundation and from Warner Bros., and from all the money that we could raise from all our fund-raising efforts and kids and school kids and as much money as we could raise through those sources.

That ended up raising about $5 million so by the time Keiko arrived, we were actually still several million dollars short of our goal. At that point the Macaw Foundation and Warner Bros., were willing to put in an extra contribution just to get us up to the top.

So it was a big effort because that's still a lot of money. That's more money than Warner Bros., had ever contributed to any project they'd ever done and the grant from the Macaw Foundation was a very substantial commitment for wildlife. So it was a very expensive project but it was one where once we got going the contractors were working. --the contractors were working, the plane was donated. Lots of people were getting involved and it got this momentum and it was, at that point it was sort of hard to stop it. So even though we still hadn't paid everybody by the time we even got him there, people were working for credit and people were putting in lots of donated time and effort.

MOVING KEIKO FROM MEXICO TO OREGON BY PLANE.... IN RETROSPECT WHAT STANDS OUT FOR YOU?

Looking back on it, we have to wonder whether we were just crazy to even attempt it because of how difficult it was with all the logistics of getting him out of Mexico. He wasn't in good health and it was a very, very challenging thing.

I think another thing that really struck me was there were hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets of Mexico to say good-bye to him and I started realizing what an amazing kind of cultural icon he was in Mexico. I don't think there was anything like that in the United States except maybe how people felt like about Lassie or something. But there, Keiko had grown in proportion - he was a beloved animal there and so we got this feeling like that we really had this, the feeling that we both needed to do it right and that we were, that so many people were watching. We were taking this animal in their trust and we had to do the right thing for him.

Then the other thing that was just amazing was that it was so widely covered. There were 17 satellite trucks in Newport when we arrived. There was worldwide attention. Everybody wanted to know what was happening with the whale and so it was extremely gratifying when we finally got him in the water and he swam, and we could feel like we actually had done this. That was a very nice moment.

Along the way, each step of the way, we kept thinking, "OK we've done that, but he's still not there, we got him out of the pool, we got him onto the plane, we're flying with him, OK things are going OK". But until we actually got him in the water I didn't even think that for sure it would ever happen

And now, our hope is that we're going to take him on another trip back to Iceland. So now we've practiced, we've got a few of the kinks out of this idea of moving Keiko around. He's actually in way better shape for moving now than he would have been there. He's gained 1,900 lbs. His health is very good and he's very strong and he's ahead of us. He's not very far from being ready right now and it's people now that are getting in the way. It's the politics and the decision makers and the politicians and others that are going to be the ones that are kind of holding Keiko's fate.

A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO WHEN YOU AND I FIRST MET YOU HAD TOLD ME THAT IT LOOKED LIKE KEIKO WAS GOING TO GET RELEASED IN JULY 1997. WHAT HAPPENED?

Well, releasing Keiko is about two things. It's about having Keiko ready from a rehab point of view. Which means he's got to be his strongest weight, he's got to be able to show you he can eat on his own. He's got to have his papaloma all cured, so him getting healthy.

And on the other side of the equation is convincing the powers that be where it is that we're going to release him to allow this. Our first choice would be to release him in Iceland. 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". So those two things have to work hand in hand and that's taking time.

WHAT WILL YOU DO IF ICELAND KEEPS YOU OUT?

If Keiko is ready. If he is, proves to us and the veterinarians and the scientists that he's ready to go back to the wild and if we can do a pretty good job at establishing as best we can where his family is and where the group is. We will find a way to release him even if it's not in Iceland. We will find another location. These animals have long ranges. They can swim hundreds of miles and we will find another site. It won't be our first choice, and we hope that we'll be able to convince the Icelandic government that this is going to be a great thing for them because the press attention and just showing the goodwill to do something, to put something back will end up bringing great credit to Iceland.

So we think in time we will be able to convince them. But if not, and if Keiko's ready, we will find a way to release him.

We do not feel that we have completed our goal in getting him to Newport. That's only half of our goal. Our other half was to get him to Iceland, and even beyond. We want to get more animals into Newport, more whales, and get them released back in the wild.

WHAT IS THE MAIN GOAL OF THE FOUNDATION?

Well, I think that there's pretty much clarity about the goal of the Foundation. But where it gets a little bit tricky is, I mean we know that we want to rehab Keiko and release him to the wild. We know that we want to get more animals into the facility and fix them up and release them, and there have been questions about how to do all the things at the same time. Should we be finding a companion animal for Keiko? How much diligence should we be putting into that and will that take away from the effort to get Keiko ready and to get Keiko back into Iceland. So it's more a question of sequences, it's more a question of focus and I think that there are some who feel that we should just keep our blinders on.

Let's just focus on Keiko, don't worry about what other whales are in captivity at Sea World or Marine World. Let that play itself out. If we just keep our blinders on, keep our focus on Keiko, we will do more for all those other whales than we will if we spread our focus and we're out trying to buy another whale or acquire another whale and we've got him in with Keiko and there are all these other issues and we kind of get sidelined off the main focus. So I think that's kind of, there's a little bit of debate as to how we approach that.

BUT YOU WOULD SAY: FOCUS ON KEIKO, RIGHT?

Well, I think that getting Keiko back to the wild has the potential for being such a breakthrough for all the whales that are in captivity right now. It's probably, it's just difficult to even understand the implications of how broad that could be.

HOW IS WHAT YOU'RE DOING PERCEIVED BY THE MARINE MAMMAL PARKS? ARE THEY FEELING THREATENED?

I think they are feeling pretty threatened. I mean, the reality is we have the most famous whale in the world, OK, in a facility that is not predicated on public display. It's predicated on rehabilitation. There are no shows, there are no feeding acts. There's nobody riding them and we have a goal of returning them to the wild. There's no other facility in the world that has an Orca whale that they're preparing to return to be returned to the wild. In fact the facilities are against it. They think that they're the responsible ones for taking care of the animals that they have, and that it would be irresponsible to return them to the wild.

So we are pushing the envelope way further than any of those facilities feel in pushing it. That's somewhat of a threat to them and they have some concerns that if we're successful with Keiko, if we can return him to the wild, and he's able to prosper, reunite with his family and survive that there will be added pressure on them to do with the whales that they're taking care of.

If Keiko can be returned to the wild, what about Lolita? What about Corky? They are very resistant to that pressure. I think that there is some sense of a change in public attitude that certainly has manifested itself in zoos and aquariums around the world , a recognition that these shabby little facilities that, with no effort to try to recreate their natural state are wrong.

So zoos have moved into the effort to try to create natural environments. You can't create a natural environment for an Orca whale. These whales wander over hundreds and hundreds of miles. They are incredibly social animals. They're always with their groups. So you can't recreate that. So they're fighting a very difficult battle to try to claim that they can represent the habitat in the way that they perhaps might for some other captive animals.

And so I think that they are somewhat concerned that public attitudes will move in the direction of an understanding that Orca whales are not an appropriate thing to have in captivity.

I don't think that there will be Orca whales in captivity in our lifetimes. I think that there will be a time in which the consciousness will be at the point that there's just broad recognition that you just don't have them in captivity. Just don't do it.

AND DOLPHINS?

I would like to think that we'll also get there with dolphins. Dolphins are smaller, they have been able to reproduce better in captivity than have Orcas. There are some species like the bottlenose dolphins that are way less stressed than would be keeping an Orca whale .

But yeah, I think it's the same thing applies. You're talking about a highly social animal. Highly intelligent animal that wanders over hundreds of miles and whose social structure is completely broken to have them in captivity.

YOU TALKED ABOUT THE MARINE MAMMAL PARKS BEING RESISTANT. WHAT FORM DOES THAT RESISTANCE TAKE? Well, when people write to them and say "What about the Orca that you have in captivity. Is there any chance of it being returned to the wild". They'll communicate back "No it would be irresponsible to return them to the wild, we're the responsible caretakers". If you ask them about Keiko, they say "Well it's OK that they brought him from Mexico to Newport but it would be irresponsible for them to go the next step and return him to the wild".

So they're not taking overt steps to block us but they're philosophically of a different view.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE PEOPLE ON THE STAFF OF THE AQUARIUM WHO HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN THE CAPTURING OF THESE WHALES YEARS AGO?

The thing about hiring staff or people that work with Orca whales is that you have to remember every Orca whale in captivity around the world, with the exception of Keiko, is in a facility that's predicated on entertainment and display. Which means that every trainer, every veterinarian, is working in that environment. That's their only jobs . So if you're going to hire somebody that has experience working with Orca whales, veterinary or training-wise - that's your universe . In our case I've been really pleased that the people that we have hired have been committed to our ideology and in some cases after years and years of working with the aquarium industry, they've actually reached the recognition that Keiko could be returned to the wild. That it could work. They've reached the recognition that there's more than simply giving them fish and having them slap their tails that make waves that get on the public. They realize that there's more to Orcas than this kind of a silly performing tricks.

So the ones that we've had have in many senses have broken from that tradition and are moving into a different tradition that has to do with rehabilitation and release. Which is very exciting because again it's never been done. It's been done with dolphins.

There have been some instances in which dolphins have been returned to the wild. In which they've been radio-tracked and people have observed them years later and have been able to assimilate back into the wild populations. So there's no real reason to think that it couldn't happen with Orcas. They are big dolphins. But it's never been done before so it carries a certain excitement that way and the staff that we brought on I think is starting to get caught up in that excitement.

ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT LANNY WHEN YOU SAY THAT--LANNY CORNELL?

Lanny Cornell had a long experience with the captive industry. Very pro-capture. Was involved with capture, captivity and but at the same time, Lanny is one of our biggest proponents of the fact that yes, it can be done. Keiko can be successfully returned to the wild. And so he's kind of broken from that tradition of feeling that it has to be opposed because it's not in the best interests of the theme park industry itself. Lanny's not really caught up in that thinking. Lanny is willing to get involved with us and an effort to turn Keiko back.

WHAT DO YOU SAY WHEN SOMEBODY SAYS - THIS IS A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY TO SPEND ON ONE WHALE?

This, I think that this is going to be so much bigger. I think Macaw realizes how big this is. This isn't just about one whale. It's not just about Keiko. This is about our attitudes towards wildlife and it's about our attitudes towards marine mammals. If Keiko, if we can succeed with this. It's also about something that's never been done before and Macaw'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.

If in fact we can through the Keiko effort. If we can help push that change faster so that people realize that these are not animals put here for our enjoyment. And that we have responsibilities as humans to try to do something to put something back - if we can move that issue. That amount of money will be a mere token and I think that Macaw realizes that. I think he wants to feel that he can make a difference.

And this is something, this is an area where a difference can be made because there's a lot riding on what happens with Keiko. If we are successful it's almost, the sky is the limit in terms of how that can be used to push the agenda of protection, rehab, release of other Orcas and the effort to try to get the public to realize that we can do it a different way.



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