Whales: Twenty years after “Free Willy,” what have we learned, and what have we missed…

It was twenty years ago, today....(actually, July 16th....)
It was twenty years ago, today….(actually, July 16th….)

Do you remember where you were, the first time you saw Free Willy? For me, it was in a movie theatre in Eugene, OR, USA, with a packed house that screamed & cheered & clapped when Willy gets away at the end (see the poster at right, for spoiler). It was a football game where the home team won, a fairy tale that wasn’t Grimm, it was a tale of justice, unpeeled. It was awesome.

One of the byproduct events of the movie was the eventual real-life release of the whale who played Willy, a captive killer whale named Keiko. Was this a good idea? DId it work out? Did humans learn anything from the experience about orcas, or about themselves?

I got to shake David Kirby’s hand last summer when he was passing through Friday Harbor (WA) on a promotional tour for his new book, Death at SeaWorld. I found him thoughtful, articulate, and an impassioned warrior against marine mammal captivity. Reading Death at SeaWorld made want to read the article linked below.

He shares his take on what we could have learned, what we missed, and perhaps what lies ahead in this penetrating essay. Let me know what you think.

Here’s the link to David Kirby’s remarks about Keiko on the 20th anniversary of Free Willy.

And…. here’s the trailer for the movie, back then.

Still endangered? NOAA reviews what’s next for humpbacks…

Numbers of humpbacks may have increased enough to pull them from the US federal protections....photo off western Maui in February by Ian Byington.
Numbers of humpbacks may have increased enough to pull them from the US federal protections….photo off western Maui in February by Ian Byington.

My friends at Whale Trust in Maui tell me that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is set to review whether humpbacks will remain protected as an endangered species, or whether their status would be downgraded to “threatened.”

The issue includes checking to see if the North Pacific humpback should be considered as a separate species, as well.

Here’s more from  Alaska Public Media.