Known for his role in the “Free Willy” movies, Keiko is the most famous of captive orcas, or killer whales.
Born in 1977, Keiko was captured off Iceland at two years old and sold to an aquarium. For years, he was moved from one marine park to another, performing for the public while living in small quarters and developing skin lesions indicative of poor health.
After he appeared as Willy in the “Free Willy” franchise, millions of donations led to the establishment of the Free Willy Keiko Foundation, dedicated to finding Keiko a new, better home. The Oregon Coast Aquarium built huge facilities dedicated to rehabilitating Keiko so that he could eventually be returned to the wild. Keiko, already weighing in at nearly 8,000 pounds, gained over a ton at his new home.
During his extensive rehabilitation period, Keiko escaped during an open-ocean walk meant to acclimate him to the area. Even after years of preparation, Keiko was unable to cope in the wild, eventually finding his way to Skålvikfjorden in Nordmøre, where Americans who knew him previously took care of him. He died there in 2003 - the official cause is pneumonia - and was buried in a grave cairn, where visitors bring new stones to add to the growing pile.