Liberation Nearer for 'Free Willy' Killer Whale

From Associated Press

Keiko, the killer whale made famous by the film "Free Willy," is heading toward a new home in Oregon and eventual freedom, his owners announced Monday.

The Reino Aventura amusement park where Keiko has lived for the past decade signed an agreement donating the 3.5-ton mammal to the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, which plans to eventually free him in waters off Iceland after a rehabilitation period at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.

An amusement park representative said the 15-year-old killer whale, captured off Iceland at age 2, has performed for about 12 million visitors over the past 10 years. Efforts to free him began when the Warner Bros. film was released in 1993.

"Keiko will be the only captive orca whale that doesn't have to do shows or perform," David Phillips, foundation director, said.

The foundation plans to move Keiko in November.

Oscar Porter, director of Reino Aventura, said the park had "received letters and proposals of aid from all over the world."

Phillips said the entire project will cost more than $9 million over four years and include Keiko's "relocation, rehabilitation, possible mating, possible liberation and investigations into the whereabouts of the family of Keiko."

That includes funds to build a $7-million, 2-million-gallon tank at the Oregon aquarium.

Experts said Keiko needs to be trained gradually for life at sea--weaned, for example, from eating dead fish to eating live ones.

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