Freeing Keiko

The Journey of a Killer Whale from Free Willy to the Wild by Kenneth Brower

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Kenneth Brower



Captured as a two-year-old calf off the coast of Iceland in 1979 by a fishing vessel, the killer whale who would become Keiko was soon sent to North America, struggling for many of his early years in captivity. Sent to live at an amusement park in Mexico City, the orca languished in a tank too small, in water too warm, and received an improper diet—and was soon beset by a vicious skin virus. But after he starred in director Richard Donner’s hit film Free Willy in 1993, Keiko gained international celebrity as the most famous marine mammal in the world, as millions learned of his plight.

With the help of a dedicated team of environmentalists led by the Earth Island Institute and $7.5 million from the deep pockets of eccentric cellular-phone billionaire Craig McCaw, he was rescued from his critical illness and installed in a $7.3-million facility in Oregon that was designed to prepare him for a return to the wild. In a move that would cause controversy within the scientific, environmental, and marine park communities, he ultimately would return to his native Iceland where a team of keepers would attempt to release him, making the cinematic story that had captivated the world’s children a reality.

Award-winning environmental writer Kenneth Brower has created a narrative that is by turns heartrending and exhilarating, re-creating the intricate, mesmerizing world of the sea in all its lushness. In bringing to life this unforgettable animal alongside the men and women who dedicated their lives to his return to the sea, Freeing Keiko illuminates much about human nature as well. 

Praise for Kenneth Brower’s A Song for Satawal:
“Like the work of Paul Gauguin and, perhaps, of Margaret Mead, this is a thoroughly romantic account, the product of an astral traveler-in-reverse who finds . . . more to marvel at than John Glenn ever did in space.”
The New York Times Book Review


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