This article was taken from the Times Globe, a local Saint John, newspaper. Issued Wednesday, May 27/98

A Saint John company is helping send Keiko home

Telegraph Journal staff writer

Free Willie   A Saint John company has been chosen to help one of Hollywood's biggest stars make a splashy comeback into the Atlantic Ocean.
   Keiko, the l0,000-pound orca whale who starred in the popular Hollywood blockbuster Free Willy, is returning home to the Icelandic waters where he was captured in 1979.
   And in order to accomplish this monumental task, Saint John's Maritime Aqua Service, along with Cards Aquaculture Products Ltd. of Pennfield, have been recruited. The companies will build the netting and net tension system that will be used in part of the floating pen where Keiko will readjust to his natural habitat.
   "As you can imagine, there are no industry standards on building a net for a whale," laughs Blair Moffat, president of Maritime Aqua Service (MAS).
   "But it is in everybody's interest that this works," he continues seriously, "There is no room for error on this project."
   The company, which won the Saint John Board of Trade business of the year award last year, has been hired to create the tension system that will keep the net rigid and free from pockets that could trap Keiko. The system is a 240-metre round ballasted plastic pipe system that hangs beneath the net to keep it taut.
   Cards Aquaculture Products Ltd., who has worked with MAS before, has been hired to construct the net cage.
   The New Brunswick companies sent in a joint proposal to the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation after Mr. Moffatt heard about the whale's "half-way home" over the Internet.
   While the half-way home was already under construction, being built from extra-strength, polyethylene pipe, the foundation had not yet chosen anyone for the net or tension system.
   The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, which is sponsoring the entire project, has been working to return Keiko to his home since he was bought from Mexico's Reino Aventura Aquarium in 1996. Two thousand pounds underweight and covered with lesions, Keiko was flown to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
   It is now the foundation's goal to gradually reacclimatize the 21-year-old whale into the ocean. The foundation is hoping to completely release the whale into the wild by next spring, but the companies involved in the pen construction will have plenty of time to make sure everything works perfectly.
   Cards Aquaculture Products Ltd. has jumped at the opportunity of helping to free "Willy" by creating a supersized net that will mirror the cage structure.
   The net, of the same material used for professional hockey nets but coated with resin, is expected to weigh around 7,500 pounds. It is now being constructed in Ontario, and will be shipped to New Brunswick at the end of the month so that Cards Aqua can begin to build the cage.

The article below was taken from the Times Globe, Tuesday, June 9/98

Whale of a Contract
Shediac business wins bid to keep Keiko the killer whale's sea cage steady

Telegraph Journal staff writer

    A Shediac business has hooked a whale of a contract - to provide the mooring system that will help "Free Willy" return to the wild.
    Keiko, the killer whale- turned-movie-star featured in the popular Hollywood film Free Willy, is returning to his home waters off the coast of Iceland.
    Strait Moorings International has been hired to build a high-tech support system that will keep Keiko's special sea-cage steady while he acclimatizes to his new ocean home.
    Free Willy hit the silver screen in 1992 and was an immediate hit. In the movie, a young boy helps Willy escape from his mean captors. Real life, however, didn't mirror the movie.
    Word of Keiko's miserable living conditions spurred a movement to free the creature. The U.S. President was petitioned by many to release Willy to the wild.
    The hype came to a head with the creation of the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation - a group whose sole purpose is to return Willy to the wild.
    After years of planning, the project is finally nearing fruition.
    The design and building of Keiko's high-tech sea cage is now under way.
    Playing a vital in freeing Keiko will be Rick Shalala's Hurricane Mooring System - is an ingenious invention based on ancient principles.
    Mr. Shalala invented the Hurricane Mooring System five years ago. The mooring system is based on the ancient inventor Archimedes' most brainstorm - the simple screw.
    Most mooring systems consist of heavy deadweights linked by series of chains. In ideal conditions, the dead- weights keep marinas and buoys in place. The ocean, however, rarely provides ideal conditions; winds and waves often batter mooring systems with tremendous force, leaving them broken and mangled. For a mooring system to be effective, it must be able to keep its grip on the ocean floor.
    Enter Mr. Shalala's invention. He designed a type of helical anchor that screws deep into the ocean floor. The anchor is attached to a special system of high-tech, three-ply polymer ropes that are 10 times stronger than steel.
    The ropes are then attached to the Seaflex Energy System - a Scandinavian-designed energy absorption system that keeps cages, nets, buoys and marinas under constant tension.
    Keiko's keepers are constructing a large mesh cage more than 200 feet long and 100 feet wide. Keiko will live in the cage for several weeks before he is finally released to rejoin other pods of killer whales.
    Keiko's watery half-way house, however, may be subjected to high winds and waves. Should Keiko's cage be tossed about by ocean storms, the whale could become ensnared in the netting. Thus, it's vital that Keiko's cage be kept solidly in place.
    Mr. Shalala is joining two other New Brunswick firms that will also be working on the Free Willy project.
    The foundation hopes to release Keiko by next spring. That gives Mr. Shalala less than a year to design and build the mooring system. The project is sure to raise Strait Mooring International's profile.
    Mr. Shalala says his company is being paid a "six figure" sum to build the mooring system. More lucrative, however, will be the windfall in publicity the company stands to gain from doing the project.
    "This will get us international exposure we could never even dream of," Mr. Shalala says. "It will be one of the best things that will ever happen to this company."

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