Orcas, also known as killer whales, are some of the most popular and controversial exhibits at aquariums and amusement parks around the world. This orca, Skana, lived at the Vancouver Public Aquarium in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, until her death in 1980.

Photograph by Robert Sisson, National Geographic

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    On December 12, 2003, Keiko, one of the most famous killer whales in the world, died of pneumonia in a Norwegian fjord. He was 27 years old.
     
    Keiko was the title character in Free Willy, a movie about a boy setting a captive whale free. Free Willy brought attention to the conditions of Keiko’s own captivity in a Mexico City, Mexico, amusement park. Keiko was captured in the North Atlantic Ocean as a calf. He grew up in aquariums in Iceland and Canada before being sold to the facility in Mexico. 
     
    Many people and organizations advocated for Keiko’s return to the wild. Some marine biologists, however, were skeptical about the plan. They thought Keiko was far too acclimated to living with people and would be unable to adjust to life in the open ocean. 
     
    Nonprofit organizations and multinational corporations bought Keiko from the Mexican aquarium. Keiko was transported to an aquarium in Oregon, and then to a facility in Iceland, where he was trained to live among wild orcas. 
     
    Keiko never adjusted to life in the wild. He lived the rest of his life around Norwegian fjords, interacting with residents and tourists.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    acclimate Verb

    to get used to the climate and culture of an area.

    adjust Verb

    to change or modify something to fit with something else.

    advocate Verb

    to argue in favor of something.

    amusement park Noun

    recreational facility with games, food, and mechanical rides.

    aquarium Noun

    a container or tank where aquatic plants and animals are kept, or an institution that keeps such containers.

    calf Noun

    baby whale.

    captivity Noun

    confinement or imprisonment.

    capture Verb

    to take or control.

    facility Noun

    a building or room that serves a specific function.

    fjord Noun

    long, narrow ocean inlet between steep slopes.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fjord
    inspire Verb

    to influence to act.

    killer whale Noun

    carnivorous whale, actually the world's largest species of dolphin. Also called an orca.

    marine biologist Noun

    scientist who studies ocean life.

    multinational corporation Noun

    business that manages the production of goods or delivers services in several countries.

    nonprofit organization Noun

    business that uses surplus funds to pursue its goals, not to make money.

    ocean Noun

    large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ocean
    pneumonia Noun

    infection where lungs fill with fluid.

    resident Noun

    person who lives in a specific place.

    skeptical Adjective

    doubtful.

    tourist Noun

    person who travels for pleasure.

    transport Verb

    to move material from one place to another.