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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Free Willy seeks human company
Keiko
Keiko was released after a campaign
The killer whale who starred in the Free Willy films has turned up in a Norwegian fjord, six weeks after his keepers released him into the waters off Iceland.

Keiko, who is about 10 metres (33 feet) long, spent most of his life performing in marine parks in Canada and Mexico.

He went back to his native Iceland in 1998, after the Free Willy role sparked a campaign for his return home.

Trainers then spent years preparing him for life in the wild, finally releasing him from his pen in Iceland in mid-July to join a group of wild killer whales.

It seemed to be working until the wandering whale abandoned the pod and turned up 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) away off the coast of Norway.

The unexpected visitor thrilled Norwegians, who stroked him, swam with him and even climbed on his back in the Skaalvik Fjord, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of the capital, Oslo.

"He is completely tame, and he clearly wants company," said Arild Birger Neshaug, 35.

Swimming companion

Mr Neshaug said he had been out in a rowing boat with his 12-year-old daughter, Hanne, and some friends when they first spotted Keiko on Sunday.

"We were afraid," Mr Neshaug said. "But then he followed us to our cabin dock. At first we were sceptical and then we tried patting his back. Finally the children went swimming with him."
Keiko
Keiko was released six weeks ago

He said the orca remained nearby all night and into the day on Monday, munching on fish tossed to him by the families.

But Colin Baird, a spokesman for the Ocean Future Society which monitors Keiko in the wild, said the whale's new friends were doing more harm than good.

"This is very exciting for people I am sure but not what we would have liked for Keiko," he said.

"It is a step backward for his reintroduction into the wild.

"I know it is very interesting for people to see a friendly whale but the best interests of Keiko would be to stay away and certainly not to try to get close and pat him and certainly not to try to get into the water with him either, I don't recommend that."

Keiko is being monitored by the society by means of two tracking devices attached to his fin.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Keiko just can't kick the human habit"
See also:

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