In 1978, a young killer whale "Keiko" was collected off the east coast of Iceland and spent the next 18 years in human care. At Reino Aventura Park in Mexico, his home was not conducive to good health, and over time his condition deteriorated. In 1993, Keiko became the star of Free Willy, a Warner Bros. blockbuster movie, that enchanted the public and led children and adults to believe that a whale, long-held in the care of man, could successfully make its way in the wild.
Animal rights organizations lobbied for a real-life release program for Keiko, similar to his fictitious counterpart, and millions of dollars were raised to return the orca back to his home waters.
Author Mark Simmons was leader of the team of animal behaviorists brought to Iceland as part of the release project. But the program was doomed to failure from the start; plagued by hidden agendas and an organization unable to recognize that Keiko needed to learn to be wild before any chance at survival could exist.
"Among the misinformation and cacophony regarding the public display and release of whales and dolphins, animal behavior and marine mammal expert, Mark Simmons, provides a compassionate and deeply challenging account of the failed experiment to release a killer whale named Keiko. In Killing Keiko, Mr. Simmons sets the record straight and details why the unfortunate star of Free Willy was not ultimately a release candidate and why human agendas led to his death. This engaging, well-written and timely book is a sobering reminder that our human compassion for animals is not always well-conceived and that we need to better understand what our actions actually mean for such animals as opposed to what they mean for ourselves. A must-read for every animal lover out there."
– Gregory D. Bossart, V.M.D., Ph.D., Diplomate, European College of Zoological Medicine (Wildlife Population Health), Senior Vice President of Animal Health, Research and Conservation, Georgia Aquarium
"I've not heard of such a story since Born Free when Elsa the lioness was returned to the wild after being raised by Joy Adamson. Imagine trying to release a whale back to the ocean – what a monumental task! In Killing Keiko you'll learn about the struggle and all the challenges facing everyone involved as they attempted to teach Keiko to live, and thrive, in the wild."
– Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus, Columbus Zoo, Host, Jack Hanna's Into the Wild and Wild Countdown