Keiko update 3/3/00

From: mike williamson (
Date: Fri Mar 03 2000 - 19:31:06 EST


Dear Friends of Lolita,
Precedence: bulk

        We have some excellent news from Iceland.

Keiko swims in the bay
Trainers plan for summer release
March 3, 2000

At nine o'clock this morning Iceland time, the south gate of Keiko's
floating sea pen in the Westman Islands was opened. The spectators may have
held their breath in excitement, but the orca did not seem perturbed. Keiko
simply peeked outside, before turning round and swimming back into the pen.
An hour and a half later, and after some coaxing by his trainers, Keiko
finally got up the courage to explore his new surroundings. Right now, the
orca is swimming in the cove, accompanied by a trainer in a small boat.
     A larger boat was at the scene, filled with dignitaries (including the
US ambassador to Iceland) and members of the press who witnessed the event,
which is a big step towards full freedom for the famous star of the "Free
Willy" movie.
     According to Hallur Hallsson, the Icelandic spokesman for Ocean
Futures, Keiko will be given plenty of time to adjust to his new
circumstances. A year and a half has gone by since Keiko was relocated to
Iceland, and if all goes well the animal's trainers hope to release the
orca by this summer.
        Hallsson was also quoted to say: "We are bringing back to nature something
that was taken away. And that means that we care about nature and that we
respect nature," said Hallur Hallsson of the Free Keiko Project.
Keiko's destiny may yet shape the way Icelanders interact with his world.
"Once they see Keiko swim out into the sunshine then they will appreciate
it because they don't believe it is possible," Hallsson added.

        It will be important for Keiko to communicate with his wild counterparts,
and he appears able to do so. Quoting Discovery Online

"Using a computer program to compare Keiko's calls to recordings of wild
whales, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute researcher Bill Watkins has
confirmed that Keiko "still speaks North Atlantic killer whale," Foster says."

        Below is a press release from Ocean Futures from February 28, 2000

The Bay Pen
Since arriving in Iceland on September 10, 1998, Keiko has been housed in a
floating bay pen in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. The pen in Klettsvik Bay is
larger than any previous facility, and has allowed Keiko to experience his
native Icelandic waters for the first time since his capture more than
twenty years ago. Made of foam injected PVC pipe and special netting, the
floating pen has allowed Keiko to continue learning behavioral activities
he will need to survive in the wild. As part of his ongoing training in
the bay pen, Keiko has been learning to go through a gate, which will be
used to allow him to go from the bay pen into the larger netted Klettsvik
Bay. An identical gate will ultimately be used when Keiko takes his first
ocean "walk" outside the bay. These ocean "walks" will help Keiko
acclimate to the natural ocean environment and may result in an encounter
with a pod of wild orcas. If this happens, it is unknown whether - or when
-- he will choose to join them in the wild or return with the escort boat.

The Netted Bay
The enclosed portion of Klettsvik Bay is approximately the size of twenty
soccer fields. This larger bay environment will provide him with his first
interaction with the ocean floor since his capture. Here, Keiko will
continue his rehabilitation. The specially fabricated barrier net is 260
meters long and 33 feet deep. It is anchored in place with more than
128,000 pounds of chain, several ten ton anchors, and rock bolts drilled
into the bay's cliff walls.

Making the Move: Why It Matters
Moving Keiko from the floating bay pen into the larger bay is critical for
Keiko's potential reintroduction into his natural ocean environment.
Swimming in the safety of Klettsvik Bay, Keiko will be able to increase his
stamina and frequency and depth of diving, as well as the amount of time he
spends underwater. Keiko's trainers will also continue to increase and
approximate natural feeding patterns. Keiko has gone from being completely
dependent on dead fish hand-fed at the surface, to retrieving up to 40% of
his own food primarily in the water column. While in the larger bay,
Keiko's health will continue to be monitored by veterinary staff on a
regular basis.

        In addition, according to the Ocean Futures web site,
1997: In August, Keiko was offered live fish to eat for the first time in
18 years. While at first he did not eat them, he hunted and brought them
back to his staff with increasing adeptness. At the end of a three-week
trial period, he had caught and eaten at least one black cod on his own
initiative. Filtration maintenance brought the program to an end until live
fish were reintroduced again in February 1998.

By April 1998 Keiko was hunting, killing and eating live steelhead trout
weighing from three to 12 pounds, eating up to half his daily food this
way. He continued to be given thawed, dead herring, squid and capelin at
the same time.

Howard Garrett
Tokitae Orca Conservation Foundation
2403 So. North Bluff Rd.
Greenbank WA 98253
(360) 678-3451
This mailing list is provided by Rock Island Communications San Juan Islands, WA

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