Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Robo-Willy

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Robo-Willy

Article excerpt

The 1993 hit movie Free Willy and its two sequels raised international concerns about the cruel practice of keeping marine mammals captive for human entertainment. As a result, the number of amusement parks and aquariums with captive orcas has declined everywhere in the world -- except in Asia and South America.

In 1998, the Nagoya Port Aquarium (a tourist attraction run by the city of Nagoya, Japan) announced its plan to acquire a captive orca from another Japanese aquarium to place in its new multimillion-dollar tank.

Hoping to change Nagoya's plans, Nanami Kurasawa of the Ikura and Kujira Dolphin and Whale Action Network decided to educate the public about marine mammal captivity. Kurasawa organized a symposium on the captivity issue and invited world-famous orca expert Paul Spong and myself to present the argument for allowing these animals to remain in the wild.

While Paul focused on showing how orcas live in the wild, I related the details of the campaign to free Keiko, the orca star of the first Free Willy movie. Having been rescued from an exhibition tank in Mexico City, Keiko has been successfully returned to the cold waters of his native Iceland.

Taking a hint from Hollywood, I suggested that animatronic whales might provide an alternative to the display of live captive orcas. Three animatronic orcas (built by Edge Innovations of Mountain View, California) were used exclusively in the filming of both Free Willy sequels. If this technology could be used to duplicate the appearance and behaviors of real whales in exhibition tanks, this could open the gate for returning all captive orcas to the oceans. …

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