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Keiko the Killer Whale Unhappy in Iceland Waters

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Reykjavik, Sept 13 AFP - A project to repatriate Keiko the killer whale, the lovable star of the Hollywood Free Willy movies, to his native Iceland waters one year ago has been a failure, a project spokesman admitted today.

Keiko, who was flown home to Iceland from Oregon almost exactly a year ago amid a huge media frenzy that garnered worldwide attention, has still not begun to swim in deep waters on his own and is incapable of hunting fish to feed himself.

He has remained in his special floating basin for the past year in the Klettsvik fjord, southeast of Reykjavik.

A year ago, hopes were high that Keiko, who is 22 years old, would be reunited with his mother. Male killer whales can live up to around 30 years, while females can live to be up to 90 years old.

"His re-adaptation to natural, or wild sea life is a total failure," said Hallur Hallson, a spokesman for the Free Willy support group which has financed Keiko's care since his retirement from Hollywood in 1996.

In his new-found freedom, Keiko has never tried to eat live fish -- he requires 100kg a day -- or play with other whales.

"And when his underwater cage was damaged in a bad storm Saturday, he didn't make a move to escape," Hallson added.

Killer whales can only survive in groups, and Keiko, who has failed to adapt to his natural environment, would therefore not be able to survive on his own, according to experts.

Jack Foster, an American responsible for Keiko's care, claims not to be disappointed despite the project's failure.

"It's all only a question of money", countered Jon Gunnarson, the man who originally captured Keiko and was paid one third the sum now spent to keep Keiko alive each month.

"And I think it's repugnant to think that American children are breaking open their piggy-banks to finance the captivity of this warted and ailing animal, who is incapable of attacking a baby herring, and who will never ever make it to the deep sea again."


Stockholm, Sept 22 Reuters - Celebrity killer whale Keiko could be freed into the wild in mid-2000, according to the organisers of an campaign which returned him to his native Iceland exactly one year ago.

The five-tonne star of the first Free Willy movie was flown home from the United States and released into a floating pen in the remote Westman Islands as the first step to freedom.




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