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Taken from the Times Globe, Thursday, September 10/98

Keiko's Trip to Freedom
After almost 20 years in captivity, the killer whale of Free Willy fame is headed home to Iceland

By William Booth
Washington Post

    Keiko's trainer, 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 south coast.
    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 now.
    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 this was.
    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.
    The idea 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.

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