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Friday, 27 September, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Keiko's trainers warn tourists away
Keiko in Norway
Keiko has been seeking out human contact
Authorities in Norway are struggling to ensure that tourists leave the killer whale star of the film Free Willy alone, as he tries to adapt to life back in the wild.

Keiko, who had been in captivity for 23 years, turned up in western Norway's Skaalvk fjord after he was released in waters off Iceland as part of $20m effort (13m).

His trainers have been urging the steady stream of tourists to stay away to allow him to adapt to being back in the wild.

But some Keiko fans have not been deterred, including a young girl who spent hours playing the theme tune to Free Willy on a harmonica from the shore.

"That's just the kind of thing we don't need," said Keiko's trainer Colin Baird.

The 25-year-old killer whale has not been adapting well since being released, and appears to miss human contact.

He allowed people to swim with him and even climb on his back until Norwegian authorities imposed a ban on approaching him.

Mr Baird said most people had obeyed the rules but that the few that did not were not helping Keiko and he was losing patience, no matter how innocent their intentions.

Left alone

"I'm sorry I can't get all warm and fuzzy about it," he said.

"This isn't about playing with Keiko, or swimming with him, or playing the harmonica for him.

It is about trying to return him to the wild. We just want to be left alone."

Eight-year-old Astrid Morken was the girl who serenaded the whale with the harmonica.

She played the Free Willy theme for three hours straight, enticing Keiko into shore, like the character of Jesse in the film.

Her mother, Catharina Morken, said that Astrid had been fascinated with Keiko for years and learned to play the Free Willy song on the harmonica at the age of four.

Keiko the killer whale
The whale spent 23 years in captivity
"Not many get to meet a Hollywood star, and she got to meet her biggest hero," said Ms Morken.

Hunting

Mr Baird and American organisations are looking at the best way to rehabilitate Keiko and are searching for a place where he can spend the winter.

But Norway is adamant that it will not allow Keiko to be captured and sent back to the US, following the Miami Seaquarium's application to the US government to take him to the marine park.

The Norwegian Fisheries Directorate, as the responsible authority, will not allow Keiko to be captured or commercially exploited," said Olav Lekve, spokesman for the agency.

Norway is the only country that still hunts whales commercially, sparking fears that Keiko may be accidentally killed.

But Mr Lekve said Norway hunted minke whales and that there was little chance a killer whale would be shot.

See also:

24 Sep 02 | Entertainment
12 Sep 02 | Entertainment
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03 Sep 02 | Entertainment
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07 Aug 02 | Entertainment
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