Taken from the Times Globe,
Thursday, September 10/98
Keiko's Trip to
After almost 20 years in captivity, the
killer whale of Free Willy fame is headed home to Iceland
By William Booth
Jeff Foster, (left) tries to coax the famous whale out of his cradle into his
new sea pen yesterday as fellow trainer Steven Claussen waits to assist. After
a journey of more than 14 hours by truck, plane and barge from the United
States, the Free Willie star was finally released into the large, floating sea
pen in a secluded bay on Heimaey Island in the Westmann cluster off Iceland's
NEWPORT, Ore. -
With communication between whales and humans an imperfect science, nobody
exactly asked Keiko, the celebrity orca known as Willy, whether he wanted to
leave his two-million-gallon fish tank here and go home to Iceland for
potential release into the wild ocean.
But it's too late
Keiko, who starred in "Free Willy" as a symbol of wild animals escaping
human confinement, was coaxed yesterday afternoon into a shallow tank beside
his big pool at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where he has spent the last three
years regaining his health and learning to catch and eat live fish.
From there he was moved into a special travel box,
driven to the airport and prepared for a flight to what scientists hope will be
a new life in the chilly Icelandic seas where he came from.
His travels marked yet another passage in the
extraordinary and very public life of Keiko the -beloved killer whale, a story
that began off the coast of southern Iceland when he was ensnared in a
fisherman's net in 1979 - a murky capture that may or may not have been
accidental. The saga entered the hearts of children when the
"Free Willy"movies hit theatres with their
tale of a boy helping a whale to freedom from captivity, a tale that turned out
to be an ugly parallel to Keiko's own captivity in a Mexican theme park.
The highly intelligent mammal must have known something
was afoot yesterday when he first saw the scaffold above his pool, lined with
32 camera crews from around the world. And things moved fast after that.
While in the shallow tank, the black and white whale
with a droopy dorsal fin was cradled in a nylon stretcher, weighed at 9,050
pounds, slathered in moisturizing cream to keep his skin from drying out and,
finally, swung over the pool's edge with a big crane. As he dangled in his
cradle, Keiko moved not a flipper, as calm as a well-behaved dog on a
veterinarian's table, his upturned smile as enigmatic as ever.
But as he was lowered into his jumbo trans-port box
filled with only a few feet of saltwater, Keiko began squeaking and chirping,
probably using his echolocation skills to try to figure out what fresh hell
After he was suspended in his custom-made
transport tank - 10 metres long, three metres wide and deep enough to hold the
seven metre-long sub-adult male - his attendants threw in some ice cubes to
keep the temperature down.
It was one of the most
unusual UPS packages ever to depart these waters on the central Oregon coast.
Upon landing in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland, early this
morning, Keiko was driven five kilo- metres to an awaiting barge that shuttled
his transport box out to a floating pen in the harbour at Westmann Islands.
Part of the pen, the netting and net tension system, was built by Saint John's
Maritime Aqua Service and Pennfield's Cards Aquaculture Products Ltd, and
Strait Mooring International of Shediac has constructed a high-tech mooring
system to keep the sea-cage steady.
He eventually may be
moved to a larger encloser in the bay. In the meantime, it will cost about
$1-million a year to feed and watch over him.
that Keiko will be reintroduced to the natural rhythms and life of the ocean.
It is possible he will be able to hear resident pods of
orcas clicking and singing, but it will be at least a year before the
foundation decides whether Keiko should be released into the wild.