Willy may be freed

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1995:

MEXICO CITY––Keiko, the orca star of the 1993 film
Free Willy!, will be relocated to a new facility under construction at
the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport by November, Free Willy-
Keiko Foundation president David Phillips announced on February
6––and this time, after many false alarms, the deal was confirmed by
Oscar Porter, general director of Keiko’s present home at the Nuevo
Reino Aventura amusement park in Mexico City.
Keiko, believed to be about 16, will be accompanied by
some of the Nuevo Reino Aventura staff, Porter said, praising him
for having “developed a very special sensitivity, intuiting and perceiv-
ing people. Keiko is very affectionate,” Porter continued, “especially
toward children, ‘showering’ them constantly with his outstanding
jumps. He is so intelligent that he has been able to learn more than 54
different routines.”

At the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Keiko will be on display,
but only from an underwater vantage point. “We’re not building a sta-
dium––he’s not going to perform shows here. He’ll be here to get well,
period,” said aquarium president Phyliss Bell. Once Keiko is cured of
a chronic skin condition called a papiloma virus, and brought up to
his proper weight––he is now about a ton underweight––he will be
prepared for possible return to his native waters off Iceland, at total
cost of an estimated $10.3 million. The first $2 million was donated
by Warner Brothers and New Regency Productions, the distributor
and producer of Free Willy!, as well as of a forthcoming sequel.
“The facility” built for Keiko, “will also be used for rescue
and rehabilitation of other dolphins and whales,” Phillips added.
The 32-acre Oregon Coast Aquarium was opened in 1992,
but is still not complete. It is not accredited by the Association of
Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Pointing out that AMMPA
members spent over $250,000 to keep Keiko healthy while in Mexico
City, AMMPA executive director, Marilee Keefe said that while “the
Alliance does not oppose proper reintroduction programs,” as “mem-
bers release hundreds of stranded animals back to the wild each year,”
it does not consider Keiko a good candidate for release because he was
captured young, has now spent 11 years in captivity, and “most likely
has lost his natural ability to find food” in depleted oceans.
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