Free Willy's Influences on Animal Lovers
"An Educational Resource"
Many people have heard about Keiko, the killer whale, who starred in the movie Free Willy. After seeing the movie, audiences discovered that the friendly whale in the movie was in a tank too small and in bad health because of that and other complications that come with being taken from its natural habitat to a place where it can’t meet it’s own needs. Soon a foundation was set u[ and money started pouring in from children and their schools to come up with a plan to one day free Keiko. The tank/habitat cost “$7.3 million to build and $9 million for staff, veterinarian, care, food, utilities and other costs for the first two years alone” (Oregon Coast Aquarium). With all the problems in the world with humans and animals, it is hard to see this much money going to help just one whale.
There are different types of animal stories that people hear about. There are the wonderful stories about adorable animals that do something amazing or need our help. There are also stories about animals that are used in good and bad experiments. When you hear about the treatment of some animals for research, you feel like forgetting about research.
One such story was in 1988, three gray whales got stuck in freezing waters in Alaska, the whales were at risk of drowning because the holes in the ice that they were using to breathe were slowly freezing over. a large rescue was put together that ended up involving the National Guard and the U.S. and Soviet governments to get the whales free (Luke 87). Another story is of a mother cat that risked burning to death to save her kittens from a burning building. She and her kittens needed a home, which they got after the news coverage of the amazing act of the mother.
The first story is amazing because two separate governments (which haven’t been able to get along for the most part of the last 50 years and have only recently started to become friendly) came together to help three animals that needed some outside help. The question is: were the two governments and other groups that helped, really trying to help the whales or get attention for themselves, and say “Hey, we are helpful to everyone including animals that can’t even ask for help.” The news is just as bad as the two governments and groups. the reporters give the animals names, which makes viewers feel like they know the animals involved, so they keep watching to find out what happens. TV is the land of ratings and the only way to get ratings is to grab the audiences’ attention, with stories that make audiences have strong emotions about something (Luke 87). The cat and her kittens all got happy homes and the whales were able to go on their way, so in these two cases everything was successful.
Then there are the more extreme cases of when activists illegally raid research facilities to free animals that are being experimented on. Some of these stories are justified, when the experiments being done and the condition of the animals are discovered. In some cases newborn animals such as monkeys are taken away from their mothers as soon as they are born, and are started on experiments. Some experiments range from implanting devices, electrical cords for stimulation, or a variety of things. These are some of the more extreme cases of experimentation and sometimes groups, such as PETA, step in and take things into their own hands, Illegally (Newkirk).
Most people don’t think about what it really means to try and release an animal back into the wild and what all needs to be done for the act to take place. People and activists that are saying that the animals should be released aren’t thinking about the fact that many of the animals have been in captivity for many years or born in captivity. These animals have been hand fed and not had to worry about predators. They have forgotten how to hunt and protect themselves which, in the wild, are the two main survival needs. The animals have to be able to move with the seasons as their food moves. Another consideration that is over looked is that the captive animals may have picked up diseases that don’t appear in the wild and cold threaten the survival of whole species (Zaneski).
Some studies have been done with releasing dolphins back into the wild. In some cases the dolphins were unable to rejoin with dolphin pods and started hanging around fishing boats and beaches. The studies done aren’t all that good. The dolphins weren’t kept track of for very long so it’s not for certain whether or not they were able to survive (Zaneski).
This brings us back to the question: is it worth the time and large amounts of money to try and teach animals that have been either held or born in captivity to live in the wild again or for the first time in their lives? It appears that many people feel this way by the outpouring of money to help just one whale.
Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepard conservation Society, believes that a lot of the recent out pouring of aid to a few animals is because of the “media giving these few animals names.” When something is named it is harder to forget about it, and makes it seem more human. He believes that individual animals are helped more than the species as a whole because with individual animals it is easier to see and understand what their problems are. Many people, for example, have helped Keiko, because he was in a movie about a whale being free. Then everyone wanted that to happen for the whale actor, especially when they found out that Keiko was living in a tank that was too small which was contributing to health problems (Watson).
Captain Watson also point out that not all places that hold animals are bad. Example one is the Mirage Hotel in Las Vega that rescues animals from poor living conditions at other places. Some of the animals taken in had been abused at one time. At the Mirage, “no expense is spared” and “they aren’t forced to perform.” Another example is Sea World, which only takes in animals that need rescuing, “from strandings,” or some other reasons that caused them to need rescuing and care (Watson).
After being rescued or born in captivity, these animals learn to depend on humans for protection and food. Releasing them back into the wild would then be less humane than keeping them in captivity. At least when they are in captivity they are being taken care of. It may not be the animals’ natural habitats, but if it comes to choosing between keeping them in captivity and releasing them back into the wild, the choice should be to keep them in captivity. In the wild they will most likely end up starving to death or being eaten by a larger animal, so keeping them in captivity is for their best interest, instead of trying to get them back to the wild.
People should worry more about the animals in nature more than the animals in captivity. In most cases the animals are being taken care of. In the wild no one is taking care of them. People still hunt endangered species even thought it is illegal and others buy the products made from these endangered species. There is more danger of loosing biodiversity from hunting, and loss of habitat. Every time part of a rain forest is cleared, animals are killed directly or indirectly when they lose their homes. Habitats are broken up by cities and farmland giving animals only small patches of land to live on and no way to get to other patches to create a greater gene pool.
More attention should be given to preserving animals while they are still in their natural habitat instead of worrying about them when they have already been taken out of the habitat. Animals in captivity have already adapted to being taken care of by humans, but animals in the wild have not adapted to this and there have to be ways to help those in the wild indirectly so that it doesn’t effect the natural way of things.
There needs to be more awareness about poaching, saving endangered species, and hunting for one species that won’t harm another. Many dolphins die every day when they get caught in fishing nets because fisherment use techniques that catch dolphins along with the intended catch.
In conclusion, the media keeps its eye on a few animals and activists worry about test animals, while animals that are out in the wild are suffering. Rehab centers like the one built for Keiko are wonderful, but that money spend on one animal could help many animals just as much. We shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about animals already in captivity. This doesn’t mean ignore them all together, those in captivity should be taken care of just like any household pet. Teaching an animal to survive on its own won’t do any good when a poacher kills the animal. The human problem needs to be taken care of before animals can be helped.
Luke, Brian. “Justice, Caring, and Animal Liberation (1992).” Beyond Animal Rights: A feminist Caring Ehtic For the Treatment of Animals. ED. Josephine donovan and Carol J. Adams. New York: Continuum, 1996. 87.
Newkirk, Ingrid. Free the Animals! The Untold Story of the U.S. Animal Liberation Front and Its Founder, “Valerie. Chicago: Noble,1992.
Oregon Coast Aquarium. Interntet. 20 April 1998. Available: Aquarium
Watson, Paul. “The Cult of Animal Celebrity.” Animal People. June 1995. Online. Internet. 20 April 1998. Available: (no longer available)
Zaneski, Cyril. “Will Performing whale Fail or Flourish in the Wild?” Knight-Rider New Service 10 March 1995. Online. Internet. 23 April 1998. Available: Knight-Rider