Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Ten years on: A tribute to Keiko

Keiko wasn’t the whale that sparked my interest in orcas – that happened before Free Willy came out – but he was the one whose story I followed very closely for almost a decade. I had half a dozen VHS tapes on which I’d record anything concerning orcas that would come up on TV, whether it was a documentary, a news clip, or a film snippet; folders were packed with newspaper clippings and magazine articles. At the time, most of that news coverage was of Keiko’s extensive rehabilitation and release. It was easy to fall in love with this huge, endearing animal whose life became far more fascinating than a wistful movie plot. Like so many others around the world, I felt like I was with Keiko for every challenge and success along his journey:¬†every transfer, every “ocean walk,” every opportunity to interact with his own species, every return to humans. Though I can’t begin to imagine the heartbreak those that worked with him felt when he died, I was devastated. That was the 12th December 2003. I painted a picture of him a few days later. (I’ve unfortunately lost the scan.)

I wanted to do a little tribute to commemorate him ten years on, but wasn’t able to finish in time for the exact date due to being so busy (it’s the time of year!). I did manage to complete this 10 x 8 painting on canvas today though, so I wanted to share it and remember a remarkable whale.