Subject: Killer Whale, Willy:Dispute Over Famous Whale's He (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Tue, 7 Oct 1997 13:15:56 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue,  7 Oct 97 13:53:00 GMT 
Subject: Dispute Over Famous Whale's He

Dispute Over Famous Whale's Health

 Associated Press Writer
   NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) -- Owners of the whale that starred in the hit
movie "Free Willy" accused an aquarium Monday of putting greed
ahead of the animal's well-being by saying he was too sick to be
released into the wild.
   Keiko's arrival at the Oregon Coast Aquarium aboard a plane from
an aquarium in Mexico in January 1996 had a storybook quality, with
hundreds of cheering children lining the streets of this tourist
town to welcome him.
   Now, the uplifting saga of a whale's rehabilitation and possible
release has turned into an ugly dispute marked by charges of greed
and malfeasance.
   Last month a veterinarian quit over Keiko's care and the state
is investigating charges that the mammal is in poor health and
being exploited.
   And in the latest turn of events, the foundation that owns Keiko
held a news conference Monday to rebut statements made last week by
Oregon Coast Aquarium officials who claimed Keiko was listless and
being treated for respiratory ailments.
   Dr. Lanny Cornell, a San Diego veterinarian representing the
Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, accused the aquarium of saying Keiko
was ill to prevent their star attraction from being set free.
   "If I had a cash cow, and I saw it about to disappear, I would
become upset about it," Cornell said.
   Cornell said he and another doctor examined Keiko Monday morning
and found him to be fit. "He is, in essence, a very good-looking,
mature killer whale," Cornell said.
   Within a year or two, it may even be possible to begin the
process of returning Keiko to the North Atlantic, Cornell said.
   Keiko's presence has helped double attendance at the aquarium
and has generated an estimated $75 million for the local economy
since his arrival.
   But Phyllis Bell, president of the aquarium, said economics had
nothing to do with the announcement last week that Keiko was
   "We just want what's best for Keiko," she said.
   She also denied allegations by foundation officials that
aquarium employees had let the water quality in Keiko's tank get so
bad that it made the whale sick last summer.
   Aquarium officials cared for Keiko from the time he arrived
until July 1, when the foundation assumed care for him. He is still
being kept at the aquarium.
   Last month, a veterinarian and the aquarium's chief of animal
husbandry resigned, citing ethical concerns about Keiko's care.
   "I would not sign a life insurance physical on that animal
today," said Steve Brown, who had been one of the whale's two
veterinarians. Brown, who had worked as a subcontractor to the
foundation, said Keiko was sick with a fungus in his respiratory
system at that time.
   The Oregon Veterinary Medical Examining Board last week launched
an investigation to determine who is caring for Keiko and how well.
   Nonetheless, foundation officials announced in August that Keiko
had gained 1,900 pounds and grown 6 inches, to 21 feet, since his
arrival in Oregon. They said he had begun to catch fish swimming in
his tank.
   And if Keiko was under the weather, he wasn't showing it Monday.
The 9,600-pound whale made several quick passes and delighted
several hundred tourists by pushing an inflated blue ball around
his tank.
   "He looks a lot better than when he arrived here," said
Dolores Hamel, 66, of Sunriver, Ore., who was visiting with her
husband. "I don't know if he's ready to leave or not, but he sure
looks good."