Subject: Free Willy/Keiko:U.S. urges independent evaluat (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Mon, 1 Dec 1997 10:31:42 -0500 (EST)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon,  1 Dec 97 12:39:00 GMT 
Subject: U.S. urges independent evaluat

U.S. urges independent evaluation of ``Keiko'' whale

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An independent medical team should
evaluate Keiko, the killer whale and star of the movie "Free
Willy," to decide if the animal is healthy enough to be
returned to its ocean home, the U.S. Agriculture Department said
     Animal rights activists and zookeepers have disagreed about
whether Keiko, an aging killer whale that has lived most of its
life in captivity, would be able to survive if set free in the
Pacific Ocean off Oregon.
     The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said
in a letter to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Free Willy
Keiko Foundation that a team of independent experts should be
selected to examine the animal.
     The aquarium and the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association
have previously asked for an independent evaluation of Keiko,
contending that he could not properly feed or care for himself
in the wild.
     To ensure the team that evaluates Keiko is independent, the
agency proposed that the experts be selected by the Free Willy
Keiko Foundation, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Agriculture
Department and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
     "We are asking your respective organizations to commit to
this process, both in spirit and with commitment of resources
for this project, so that accusations of bias toward either
facility cannot be made," said the letter sent by W. Ron
DeHaven, acting deputy administrator for animal care at the
     The whale is owned by the Free Willy Keiko Foundation, which
has worked with the animal to prepare him for a return to the
     The aquarium became concerned about Keiko's health and care
earlier this year and foundation officials later revealed that
the whale was treated for bacterial infection, a fungal-based
respiratory ailment and for parasites.
     "We are ready and willing to support the USDA proposal,"
said aquarium President Phyllis Bell. "We feel that, with the
added support of the government officials, we can finally get
Keiko the check-up he deserves and put this matter to rest."