In the movie “Free Willy,” the whale is played by a 5-ton orca named Keiko. In the film, he escapes captivity and returns to the wild. When millions of children learned that the real Willy was confined to a shallow pool in Mexico, they started a campaign to free him. However, not everyone thinks this is a good idea?including Keiko. “This animal most probably will not be able to survive on its own if it’s not being taken care of by humans,” says whale expert Leif Nottestad.
In 1979, when Keiko was 2 years old, he was trapped off the coast of Iceland and sold to a marine amusement park in Mexico City for $350,000. The studio that made the film hired animal activist Dave Phillips to return Keiko to the wild.
When Phillips saw Keiko in Mexico, the orca was underweight and suffering from a virus. Keiko was moved to a specially built tank in Oregon where he swam in sea water for the first time since he was a baby. Within a year and a half, he gained 2,000 pounds and his skin virus disappeared.
But Keiko wasn’t ready to return to the wild?he didn’t even know how to catch fish. The Free Willy/Keiko Foundation hired an Air Force cargo plane to take the whale to a custom-made location in Iceland, where it cost $200,000 a month to maintain him while he was gradually reintroduced to the waters where he was born. Keiko was outfitted with transmitters to track his movements, and then lured into the open ocean, where Phillips hoped he would reconnect with his own species. He did, but he kept coming back for visits until last July, when he finally ran away with a wild pod. “We were saying this may be the real thing, this may be the real deal,” Phillips says. “Is he really making the decision to choose whales over people?”
Keiko was free for 5 weeks, but on September 1st, the prodigal whale returned home, showing up off the coast of Norway. This was not a good idea, since Norwegians hunt whales. But Keiko was out of danger as soon as the Norwegians living in the nearby fishing village realized he was a movie star. Thousands of people turned up to see and feed him, and he still remembered all his old tricks.
So Keiko had to be moved again. Now he lives in a protected bay in Norway, where he eats 150 pounds of frozen herring a day, costing thousands of dollars a month. Pods of wild orcas are heading his way right now?will he run away with them again? Stay tuned.
Researcher Rupert Sheldrake thinks animals are capable of ESP and wants to find out more about this.
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