Keiko Is Fine!
By Diane Hammond

If you've been reading newspapers, watching television or listening to the radio this month, you know that the Free Willy Keiko Foundation has been in the news a great deal lately. On October 1, the Oregon Coast Aquarium issued a press release claiming that its staff was concerned about Keiko's current health and was therefore calling for an independent health evaluation. Since the Aquarium did not first address its questions to us or to our veterinarian, Dr. Lanny Cornell, we learned of these concerns through a call from a Portland television station. We also learned over the next several days that the Aquarium had retained a public relations firm to help Aquarium President, Phyllis Bell, conduct a media tour of Portland, home of the state's major media, during which she repeated that Keiko appeared "listless" and "stressed," and suggested that he might be dangerously ill with tapeworms.

Keiko is well. Let me assure you, first of all, that Keiko is in good health. On October 6, the Foundation hosted at poolside, Dr. Michael Simon, a cetacean veterinarian from Las Vegas; Dr. Dean Bauman, a veterinarian from Newport; and Keiko's regular veterinarian, Dr. Lanny Cornell. The doctors examined Keiko thoroughly and took a blood sample for analysis that same morning. In addition to these three veterinarians, Dr. Deke Beusse of Oviedo, Florida, who had seen Keiko in August, also reviewed by phone the results of that morning's blood tests. Based on those results, all four doctors agreed that Keiko was free of bacterial or fungal infection.

The Foundation held a press conference in Newport that same day to announce the doctors' findings. We informed the media, however, that the Aquarium's gross negligence in maintaining acceptable water quality had caused Keiko to suffer bacterial and fungal infections from early July into August. Water quality issues had been discussed extensively during confidential negotiations between the Foundation and the Aquarium, but had never been made public before. By September 9, Keiko had responded fully to antibiotics and antifungal medication, and was taken off all medication besides his normal multivitamins.

We further confirmed that Keiko did indeed have tapeworms, as a result of the live-fish-eating work we were doing with him in August. Dr. Cornell de-wormed Keiko in mid-September, ridding him of roundworms but allowing some tapeworms to remain so that Keiko will acclimate to what may be an inevitable parasite load once he is living in a bay.

Where are we now? The Aquarium continues to demand an "independent, comprehensive examination of Keiko." The Foundation is satisfied with the veterinarians' findings, and will not convene an independent panel to assess his current health. We will continue to facilitate and participate in research already underway by scientists affiliated with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and by others. Through that research and other evaluative steps, we will learn far more than we already know about Keiko and about the killer whale species.

Our next goal remains to relocate Keiko to a bay pen in the North Atlantic within the next 12 to 24 months. Since July of this year, the Foundation has taken over providing Keiko's day-to-day care in addition to setting Keiko's rehabilitation program. No Aquarium employees currently work with Keiko in any capacity.

What's really going on here? We invite you to draw your own conclusions about what is fueling the Aquarium's public attacks on the Foundation and on Keiko's releasability. According to an economic impact survey the Aquarium itself commissioned and summarized on its web site, Keiko and the Aquarium brought $75 million in direct expenditures into Lincoln County during fiscal year 1996-97. The Aquar-ium's own attendance increased 157% in 1996, the year following Keiko's arrival, reaching an all-time record of 1.31 million visitors from around the world.

While we can only guess at the Aquarium's motives of late, we believe the only way to resolve the ongoing conflicts between our organizations is to enter into arbitration, which is already underway.

Tough times. It is an understatement to say that these have been difficult days. We've been gratified by the response from many of you, applauding our efforts and urging us to press on with our ground-breaking work. Thank you all for your words of encouragement and support. We will continue to keep you updated on our progress.

Donations for Keiko's ongoing care can be made to the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, 2925 S.E. Ferry Slip Rd., #81, Newport, Oregon 97365. For more information, check out our web pages at , or e-mail

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