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Taken from the Times Globe, Friday, July 30/2001

Freeing Willy star may stay in captivity
HOOKED ON HUMANS: Keiko, a killer whale, is apparently reluctant to leave his pen and rejoin pods near his home in Iceland.

By RICHARD MIDDLETON
Associated Press

    REYKJAVIK, Iceland Keiko, the killer whale that starred in the film Free Willy, may never be freed, his caretakers said yesterday.
    Even after more than 60 trips out of his pen, Keiko appears reluctant to rejoin wild killer whale pods near his home at the Westman Islands, south Iceland.
   Keiko, who has been in captivity for most of his life, appears addicted to mankind, his caretakers said.
   "It is possible that Keiko never will be free," said Jeff Foster, director of operations and field research for Ocean Futures, the Californiabased organization caring for Keiko.
    Time and money are running out for Keiko. Next month, a salmon farm is to be installed next to his pen in Klettsvik Bay. Sea lice proliferate on caged salmon and, together with the fish excretion, could affect his health.
    And while Keiko has made great strides in integrating with other killer whales since sea trials began last year, he still dives below the monitoring boat as if to protect his "human" pod, said Charles Vinick, executive vice-president of Ocean Futures.
   Caretakers only have a small window of time to work on integrating him into the pod, Mr. Foster said. Wild killer whales will be leaving the area when the weather begins to cool in about three weeks.
    Keiko, which means "Lucky One" in Japanese, was captured in Icelandic waters in 1979 when he was about two years old. He was sold to Reino Aventura amusement park in 1985 for $350,000 (U.S.).
    In 1992, Keiko starred in Free Willy and in its sequel three years later. The movies sparked a campaign to free the orca whale.
    Finally, in September 1998, Keiko was moved to his pen at the Westman Islands, where the annual cost of his upkeep in Iceland is a reported $3-million. Ocean Futures has launched a campaign to raise $1million for his care.
    The company planning to put almost 230 tonnes of salmon next to Keiko's pen said it could no longer delay the project.
   "Many people in the Westman Islands feel that okay, Keiko came, he tried to integrate with his species, but now it is time to move on," said Olafur Wernersson, general manager of Iceland Salmon.
    Mr. Foster said Keiko would stay in Klettsvik Bay during the winter and would probably be moved to another site in the spring, perhaps elsewhere in Europe.
    "Before we came to Iceland, we looked at sites in Ireland, Scotland, the Hebrides and the Orkneys."

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