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Taken from the Times Globe, Friday, July 3/99

Freeing Willy is a slow process
Movie-star whale not anxious to leave its N.B.-built haven

By MARK REID
for the Telegraph Journal

   A New Brunswick businessman is rushing to rescue the reputation of Keiko, the killer whale after a character assassination by an American tabloid.
    The former Free Willy movie star, who spent 19 years in captivity, is currently living in a New Brunswick-built pen in waters off Iceland where he is being trained to return to the wild.
    However, The National Examiner, in an article published last week, called the four-ton killer whale a "Hollywood has been" and a "blubber belly" who would rather live a pampered life in captivity than roam free with his fellow Orcas.
    While Keiko's rehabilitation is taking longer than expected, his supporters were quick to defend the whale's slow pace on the road to self-reliance.
    "These tabloid press things, I hate to believe anything that's in [them]," says Shediac businessman Rick Shalala, co-owner of Strait Moorings International , the company that built the moorings for Keiko's cage. "The whale is doing well. His training is coming along a little slower than what they would like.
    "But this is the first time this has been attempted. There's no rules to follow. You just have to feel your way along."
    Keiko's had a rough ride since his arrival in Iceland 10 months ago.
    First, the killer whale received death threats from Icelandic extremists who were upset with the choice of location for his retraining.
    Then, Keiko and his rehabilitators suffered through one of the worst Icelandic winters in recent memory.
    Now, the whale's being called a has been by the American tabloid.
    In an article last week titled "Free At Last! . . . But killer whale Keiko doesn't want to be free!," the Florida-based National Examiner says "the Hollywood has-been would rather lounge around his pen and be hand-fed sumptuous meals ... than swim with the other blowhards and forage for his own dinners. "
   However, Blair Mott, a marine technician involved in Keiko's rehabilitation, says the tabloid's name-calling is unfair.
    Mr. Mott, a member of the Ocean Futures Society in Santa Barbara, Calif., says Keiko's training is going very well considering that this is the first attempt at returning a killer whale to the wild.
    "This is an experiment," Mr. Mott says in defence of the beleagured killer whale.
   "There's nothing to compare it to.
    "It's not to our benefit, or to Keiko's just to open it [the cage] up and see what happens. "
   Keiko's New Brunswick connection comes from the high-tech $500,000 cage being used to house the whale during his rehabilitation.
    The cage's netting was built by Pennfield's Cards Aquaculture.

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