One of the great lessons about welfare that we all should learn in life is that anytime a person, place, thing, or animal is put on the dole, it remains there in perpetuity. For instance, a typical welfare recipient loses all initiative to actually work for food. FDR's Tennessee Valley Authority project is a place that has far exceeded its original intentions, and remains on the dole as a federal government-owned corporation. Wool and mohair subsidies are things freely provided for in present-day congressional farmbills. And Free Willy's Keiko, the movie's headlining whale-star, will not kick the welfare habit.
Keiko, who had been captured some twenty-two years ago, spent some time in an aquarium in Iceland, at Marineland in Ontario, and at an amusement park in Mexico City before becoming a cinema hero playing a whale that longs to be free from captivity. The original Free Willy movie started innocently enough, portraying the special relationship between a troubled boy and a whale. Before long, the boy saves the whale from "greedy capitalist exploiters" pursuing profits at Keiko's expense. Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home portrays capitalism as the clear-cut evil tormentor of the movie, in the form of an oil tanker.
These were gainful times for the fully employed whale.
Keiko's Hollywood heyday has come to a close, and he now resides in Klettsvik Bay off the coast of Iceland in a harbor containing him in place via three imposing cliffs and an 800-foot net on the open end of the bay. The sanctuary was an attempt to introduce Keiko back into the wild, and gently wean him off of human welfare. However, this harbor sanctuary has actually become an advantageous safety net for old Keiko. He has shown he does not want to go free, in spite of his Hollywood portrayal.
According to a recent New York Times story, Keiko's handlers cannot get him to fend for himself. They see no sign that Keiko will hunt fish or join orca pods in the ocean. He has to be fed daily by his handlers from the Oregon Coast Aquarium. He doesn't seem motivated to swim about and exercise, so the handlers have to "take him out for a swim" via a 100-foot boat. And his containing net has a hole in it through which Keiko can roam free, but Keiko knows not what it's for. He wants to stay on the big fat dole where life is free and easy.
The private monies that have been donated for Keiko's welfare are drying up, and now the Icelanders are said to have spent $20 million on his survival. It is not clear whether or not this is public or private welfare, or a mixture of both. But a free ride is a free ride, and Keiko is getting just that. Some critics of the program want Keiko's housing allowance and his food stamps — 100 lbs. of fish per day — taken away, and they want him to be forced to fend for himself and take his place in the sea. Keiko lovers worry that he would not survive this, given that it appears that no group or pod of killer whales will accept him into their private cooperatives. Perhaps it is due to the thriving pods not being willing to support a deadbeat whale that has become a non-contributing member of the whale community.
Keiko's current owners, Ocean Futures, worry that setting Keiko off the dole would cause him to "become a nuisance, begging for handouts from the fishing fleet in the Heimaey town harbor". The New York Times story says "he has already frightened the wits out of a bird hunter in a small boat, and once followed a cruise ship when he was supposed to be searching for his family." In other words, this big fish is resorting to begging for handouts instead of having to fend for himself.
The sanctuary where Keiko resides is not open to tourists, because, being permanently on the dole, he no longer needs to work for food. Keiko once used his tricks of the trade — jumps, sprints, and spins — to earn him a good living as an entertainer when he was in private captivity. In those days he had to labor hard for his upkeep.
It was then that the Free Willy Foundation discovered Keiko's living conditions in Mexico City, found them to be deplorable, and used adversity and propaganda to "persuade" the Mexico City amusement park to donate him to his new home at Ocean Futures, his current owners. They proceeded to take away his right to earn a living under the semblance of mistreatment and exploitation. Poor Keiko.
Keiko has clearly demonstrated he is a valuable resource to the human race. His entertainment worth supercedes any exploitation value that he may have to a bunch of pseudo-sympathetic animal rights folks or environmentalists that see him as a mere poster child (whale) for their anti-capitalist cause. After all, trained, 10,000-pound, gentle whales are a limited resource, and in limited enough supply that they can demand a high price for their services. The market for adroit whales is a good one. But Keiko has lost his opportunity to be a productive wage-earner.
So I say this: if those who purport to stand for the rights of animals really wish to help save the whales, then re-capture Keiko and put him to work doing what he loves best: playing around for tourists and at least earning his rewards. Let's not allow this creature to sink into a state of pity and disgrace. Don't plunder his spirit or work ethic under the guise of freedom.
Drawing parallels between Keiko and the modern-day welfare state, I see him as an example of what goes wrong when The Collective Peoples maintain and support positive rights in the name of collectivist ideals. Re-capture Keiko before he wastes away on whalefare.
Special thanks goes to Trudi Daniels — from the Drew and Mike Show on WRIF radio in Detroit — for tipping me off to this amusing story.
December 5, 2001
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a freelance writer and graduate student in economics, and works as a business consultant in the Midwest.
Copyright © 2001 Karen De Coster