Keiko: Wild Whale In Training


With Keiko, Ocean Futures Society is attempting something that has never been done before -- reintroducing a captive orca to the wild. Keiko's rehabilitation began in Oregon, where he regained his health and started learning the basics that he'll need to survive as a free whale. Next, he was moved to Klettsvik Bay in Iceland, where OFS staff continued his training, slowly moving him into larger spaces within the confines of the bay.

So how exactly do you go about confining and training a killer whale? Here's the background on Keiko's living conditions and how Ocean Futures Society is moving him steadily into free waters.

The Bay Pen:

Since arriving in Iceland on September 10, 1998, Keiko has been housed in a floating bay pen in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. The pen in Klettsvik bay is larger than any previous facility, and has allowed Keiko to experience his native Icelandic waters for the first time in more than twenty years.

Made of foam-injected PVC pipe and special netting, the floating pen has allowed Keiko to continue learning behavioral activities he will need to survive in the wild. As part of his ongoing training in the bay pen, Keiko has been learning to go through a gate, which will be used to allow him to go from the bay pen into the larger netted Klettsvik bay. The same gate will ultimately be used when Keiko takes his first “ocean walk” outside the netted bay.

The Netted Bay:

The enclosed portion of Klettsvik Bay is approximately 800,000 square feet, more than 20 times larger than any previous environment Keiko has experienced. The larger bay environment will provide him with his first interaction with the ocean floor since his capture more than twenty years ago. Keiko will continue his rehabilitation in this netted-off section of Klettsvik Bay. The specially fabricated barrier net is 854 feet long and 33 feet deep. It is anchored in place with more than 128,000 pounds of chain, several ten-ton anchors, and rock bolts drilled into the bay's cliff walls.

Making the Move: Why It Matters:

Moving Keiko from the floating bay pen into the larger bay is an important first step in Keiko's potential reintroduction into his natural ocean environment. Swimming in the safety of the Klettsvik Bay, Keiko will continue cardiovascular training to increase his frequency and depth of diving, as well as the amount of time he spends under water.

Keiko's trainers will also continue to increase and approximate natural feeding patterns. Keiko has gone from being completely dependent on dead fish hand-fed at the surface, to retrieving up to 40 percent of his own food, primarily in the water column. While in the larger bay, Keiko's health will continue to be monitored by veterinary staff on a regular basis.

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Photo: Keiko. Courtesy Ocean Futures Society