The 1993 Warner Bros film, Free Willy, sparked a national outrage over the injustice of keeping orcas captive. Free Willy is the reason the fight for captive orcas was acknowldeged. The film continues to be a push to open our eyes to the compassion and magic of orcas. The family friendly film highlighted the special bond between a teenage boy, Jesse, and a young majestic orca named Willy. Audience’s hearts warmed and they rooted for a happy ending for both Jesse and Willy. The movie ends in bitter happiness, Jesse succeeds in freeing Willy to reunite with his family. As much as Jesse loved Willy it was only right for Willy to return home.
When released the film inspired thousands of people to strike against marine parks that keep orcas captive. A letter campaign, Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, succeeded in freeing Keiko, the whale that ‘played’ Willy. Keiko was taken out of a marine park in Mexico and first brought to Oregon to be treated for health problems. Once in the clear, Willy was flown to Iceland to be kept in a seaside sanctuary where he could relearn his natural instincts and environment. Keiko was released into the wild, and thrived until he died of pneumonia not long after his release. Regardless of his sudden death, Keiko was 27 years old when he died, still living longer than SeaWorld’s average.
The film made over 100 million dollars, some of which was donated to releasing Keiko. Keiko, along with other captive orcas, had a similar story line to Willy. In 1961, the first captive orca was brought to a marine park. Orcas were hunted and surrounded, the youngest orca ripped away from its family. The orca’s pod has been known to follow the boats as long as they can. I’m sure that if we could understand their cries, we wouldn’t rip them away from their home and force them to live inside a concrete prison.
Willy was ripped away from his family and placed in a marine park. His cries were heartbreaking and lonely. He refused to perform and was stubborn to eat. Willy would cry long high pitched vocals, the Washington state waters cast in the background. Kasatka and Katara are a mother daughter pair of orcas that were inseparable. Katara wouldn’t leave her mothers side and Kasatka protected and loved Katara unconditionally. Katara was sold to a park in Florida, they loaded her onto a shipping truck. Kasatka was left in the pool, crying high pitched vocals. They were never heard before. A specialist was brought in, Kasatka was crying long range vocals. She was trying to locate her daughter.
SeaWorld rips family units apart like they are simply plastic pieces in a game of Life. We must come to understand that humans are not the only individuals on Earth that feel emotions. Orcas have strong family ties, they continue to be with their family units their whole lives. They have a part of the brain, humans are deprived of. It is believed to be the center for their strong love and devotion to their family. The thought of ripping a human child away from her mother and tossing her into a cage is horrifying. Replacing the word human with orca does not make that statement any less horrifying.
Free Willy sparked a movement to free orcas from captivity that lead to the first orca release. SeaWorld and others like it, announced they wouldn’t capture orcas from the wild any longer. The Free Willy movement lead to Blackfish which fueled another generation. Blackfish shocked people across the globe and flipped SeaWorld upside down, exposing the corrupt business.
SeaWorld then announced its end to the orca program. SeaWorld would end its breeding program and allow the current orcas to be their last generation. Although, this is a win for future orcas; the current orcas are still imprisoned.
The memories of Free Willy and facts embraced by Blackfish push people to say no to SeaWorld. It has thousands, refusing to buy a ticket and support the injustice of imprisoning orcas. The first legendary orca film, Free Willy, lead to a fight for justice. People are now hoping to empty the tanks, to free SeaWorld’s captive orcas into seaside sanctuaries. We have hopes of them living happy lives reunited with their long lost family. We have hopes to Free Willy, once and fore all.
Powell, Dylan. “The Free Willy Effect: Perspective and Time in the Anti-Captivity Movement.”Dylan Powell, 12 Mar. 2014.
Schellenberg, Carlyn. “Free Willy: ’93 Film Propels Anti-Captivity Movement.” The Manitoban, 22 Apr. 2016.