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Last Updated: Monday, 15 December, 2003, 12:26 GMT
Free Willy whale buried in secret
Keiko the whale
Keiko was released from captivity after finding fame
Keiko, the killer whale star of the Free Willy movies, has been buried in a secret ceremony in Norway.

The six-tonne orca died on Friday from suspected pneumonia in the Norwegian bay where he had been living out his days since his release from captivity.

Keiko, who was about 26, was buried in a pasture near to the bay where he had attracted many tourists to visit.

"We wanted to let him be at peace," said Dane Richards, one of his carers. "He's free now and in the wild."

The burial ground was so large that a machine had to be used to dig a hole, before Keiko was slid across the snow to the grave under the cover of night, with just seven people present.

"It was beautiful. He went to the grave quietly, quickly and peacefully, just like he died," said Mr Richards.

He added they had wanted to avoid the burial becoming a media circus.

Keiko rose to fame starring in the children's movies Free Willy, in which he played an orca kept in captivity.

In real life, Keiko was a captive killer whale sparking animal rights campaigners to raise funds to release him from the Mexican aquarium where he was kept.

Human company

He was eventually brought to Iceland, thought to be the orca's birthplace, for rehabilitation and training for living in the wild.

When released in 2002, Keiko headed for Norway's west coast, near the village of Halsa.

Such was his fame that visitors flocked to swim with him before a ban was imposed on humans approaching the killer whale.

Although Keiko was moved to a more remote spot, it appeared he liked the attention of humans.

Killer whales usually live for 30 to 50 years in the wild. Although frequently called a "whale", the orca is actually the largest member of the dolphin family.


SEE ALSO:
Keiko the 'Free Willy' whale dies
13 Dec 03  |  Entertainment
Keiko settles in Norway
16 Oct 02  |  Entertainment
Keiko's trainers warn tourists away
27 Sep 02  |  Entertainment
Free Willy whale offered US home
24 Sep 02  |  Entertainment
Free Willy star could be killed
04 Sep 02  |  Europe
Keiko tastes freedom
03 Mar 00  |  Entertainment


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