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
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
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
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
didn't want to be kind of in that crowd of the theme parks that rely on
cetaceans So we approached them and talked about this idea of building this
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.,
that we raised from the public and school children , and money that we got from
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
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
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
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
Looking back on it, we have to wonder whether we were just crazy to even
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
Keiko had grown in proportion - he was a beloved animal there and so we got
feeling like that we really had this, the feeling that we both needed to do it
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
Everybody wanted to know what was happening with the whale and so it was
gratifying when we finally got him in the water and he swam, and we could feel
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.
1,900 lbs. His health is very good and he's very strong and he's ahead of us.
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
BUT YOU WOULD SAY: FOCUS ON KEIKO, RIGHT?
Well, I think that getting Keiko back to the wild has the potential for being
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
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
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
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
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
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.
I would like to think that we'll also get there with dolphins. Dolphins are
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
but it would be irresponsible for them to go the next step and return him to
So they're not taking overt steps to block us but they're philosophically of a
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
trainer, every veterinarian, is working in that environment. That's their only
So if you're going to hire somebody that has experience working with Orca
or training-wise - that's your universe .
In our case I've been really pleased that the people that we have hired have
committed to our ideology and in some cases after years and years of working
aquarium industry, they've actually reached the recognition that Keiko could
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
So the ones that we've had have in many senses have broken from that tradition
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.