Subject: Killer Whale: Movie's Killer Whale Not a Hun (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Thu, 2 Apr 1998 11:19:02 -0500 (EST)


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Date: Thu,  2 Apr 98 13:34:00 GMT 
Subject: Movie's Killer Whale Not a Hun

Movie's Killer Whale Not a Hunter

 Associated Press Writer
   NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) -- The romantic notion of "Free Willy" star
Keiko swimming back to the sea just like in the movies has run up
against a hard reality: The killer whale doesn't have much of a
killer instinct.
   Keiko is so lousy at catching fish that even some of his most
optimistic handlers acknowledge that the whale who has lived nearly
his entire life in a pool may never be able to survive in the wild.
   He is getting lessons from humans in catching fish. And in the
first peek to be given to a reporter, Keiko managed to catch a
couple, with a trainer using a dog whistle, hand signals and
clapping to point him to his prey.
   But for the most part, the black-and-white beast watched meal
after meal flutter by.
   "He may never reach the wild. This may not succeed," said
Nolan Harvey, curator of marine mammals of the Free Willy Keiko
   Regardless of whether his hunting abilities improve, the
foundation still plans to take Keiko later this year to an enclosed
bay pen in the North Atlantic where he would continue to be fed.
   Two years ago, schoolchildren inspired by the movie "Free
Willy" helped raise money to move the ailing killer whale from a
cramped Mexico City aquarium to a spacious pool here at the Oregon
Coast Aquarium in hopes of getting him healthy enough for a return
to the open sea.
   His health did indeed improve, helped along with daily hand
feedings of 300 pounds of restaurant-quality fresh fish.
   To get him ready for the wild, however, the hand feeding stopped
abruptly a couple of months ago and trainers began dropping dead
fish into the tank, then stunned fish that fluttered in the water.
The sessions with healthy live fish began several weeks ago.
   In Monday's training, Harvey screamed, "Go get that fish! Go
get it!" after releasing cod and salmon into the mammal's path.
   When Keiko finally grabbed a live fish in his jaws, then
swallowed it whole, trainer Tracy Karmuza, clad in a wet suit,
jumped into the tank next to Keiko and yelled, "Good boy!"
   The famous whale ate a second fish minutes later but then seemed
to lose interest, letting at least three other live fish swim by
   Critics say Keiko's lack of hunting ability isn't surprising
because the whale has spent 18 of his 20 years in captivity.
   "I don't think it's fair and humane to the animal to try this
operation just to make a few people happy," said Brad Andrews,
vice president of zoological operations at Sea World in Orlando,
Fla. Sea World's theme parks around the country have 19 killer
   Andrews said his team of marine biologists has rehabilitated and
released whales, usually ones that have been found beached or have
other problems, such as malnutrition.
   "But those animals are with us a very short time and not long
enough to be imprinted by humans," he said. "Keiko has been
imprinted a long time."
   Though disappointed by the session, Keiko's trainers said it's
still remarkable that a captive whale that's been fed dead fish
practically its entire life now is able to catch and eat at least
some live fish.
   They said on better days, Keiko catches up to 15 live fish, or
about half his daily diet.
   "To my knowledge, no other project has attempted to teach an
adult killer whale how to hunt," said Diane Hammond, spokeswoman
for the foundation. "We're breaking new ground here every day."
   She said the foundation believes Keiko would still be much
happier in an ocean pen, even if he had to spend the rest of his
days there.
   "He will remain under our care as long as he needs it," she
said. "If that means forever, so be it."