Taken from the Times Globe, Friday,
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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."