After the movie was released, it brought the living conditions of the star orca, Keiko (Willy) to the world's attention. His tank was too small, with too-warm chlorinated artificial salt water. Keiko suffered from a weakened immune system and a skin condition around his pectoral fins. There was a monumental effort to release Keiko. A custom tank was built in the Oregon Coast Aquarium and in 1996, the whale was flown from Mexico to Oregon. He recovered well, and was moved to a sea pen in 1998. In 2002, Keiko was released into the wild after spending 22 years in captivity. Keiko became the second oldest orca to live in captivity.
Most close-up shots involving limited movement by Willy such as when Willy is in the trailer and the sequences involving Willy swimming in the open water was an animatronic whale,Walt Conti who supervised the effects of the orca estimated that half of the shots of the orca used animatronic stand-ins.Conti stated that the smaller movements of a real orca made things difficult in some ways for him and his crew., they had to concentrate on smaller nuances in order to make the characters seem alive.
Both Lori Petty and Jayne Atkinson, who play Rae Lindley and Annie Greenwood respectively, both star on Netflix's two most successful shows. Petty in Orange is the New Black and Atkinson in House of Cards.
When the film was broadcast with a Mexican dub in the United States, it was titled "Libren a Willy," which is grammatically incorrect. The correct Spanish title would have been "Liberen a Willy," or "Liberad a Willy" which is the title used in Spain.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
At the end of the film after Willy has jumped over the wall, Jesse is talking out loud, saying goodbye to Willy. The scene is very reminiscent of the end of "The Goonies" when Mikey is talking to himself and saying goodbye to One-Eyed Willie, both even sounding alike in tone of voice. Both films are set in the Pacific Northwest, and both were filmed in Astoria, Oregon.