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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Free Willy star could be killed
Keiko
Keiko was released after a campaign
Keiko, the former performing whale who has made a new home in a Norwegian fjord, may have to be killed, a Norwegian expert has said.

The suggestion has outraged the team which invested four years and 20m euros (dollars) trying to return Keiko - star of the Free Willy film - to the wild.

Keiko swam to Norway, apparently in search of human contact, only six weeks after being freed from Iceland.


Personally, I doubt very much that Keiko will be able to feed in the long term

Nils Oien
Whale expert
Whale expert Nils Oien now says Keiko has little chance of surviving a winter in the cold fjords, and even if he is moved again, is still likely to return.

"Personally, I doubt very much that Keiko will be able to feed in the long term," he told Norwegian state radio.

"This means that he would otherwise face starving to death. I therefore think that putting the whale down might perhaps be an alternative."

Keiko
Keiko was released six weeks ago
He added that the aquariums which had used Keiko as an object of entertainment must now take responsibility for his current situation.

Another expert said Keiko could still turn killer.

Ole Mindor Myklebust says there could be a serious accident if people continue to treat Keiko like a pet.

"This is on the basis of my experience as a hunter who knows the aggression which these animals display in the wild. They are the absolute monarchs of the sea - they attack when it suits them," he said.


It is out of the question to shoot Keiko

Colin Baird
Ocean Future Society
Animal welfare experts - including the team which worked with Keiko - denounced the idea of killing the whale.

"It is out of the question to shoot Keiko," said Colin Baird of the Ocean Future Society, quoted by Norwegian news agency NTB.

Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet: "Killing seems to be the first thought that comes to mind for many Norwegians when they see a whale."

"I would like to warn Norway that if Keiko is killed or injured in Norwegian waters it will be a major public relations blunder.

"Norway is already stigmatised as a nation that is illegally killing whales.

"Kill Keiko and suffer the wrath of world public opinion, especially the wrath of the world's children."

Some acknowledged that more would need to be done to keep him in the wild.

"It is clear that Keiko is having trouble with life in the wild," said Jan Einarsen of Atlanterhavsparken aquarium. "He needs help."

Some experts suggested that people could keep Keiko alive through the winter by taking food to him in the fjord, and providing the companionship he seems to crave.

But others said people were not helping Keiko by feeding him, and should stay away.

Public adoration

News of Keiko's arrival in the Skaalvik fjord, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of the capital, Oslo, sparked a flood of media attention.

The public also rushed to the area for a glimpse. Some children swam with him in the water. Others leaned from boats to kiss him.


It should be possible to coax the whale out of the coastal area in a humane and effective way by using food

Norwegian Fisheries Minister
The story of Keiko is becoming every bit as gripping as the Free Willy films which turned him into a star.

But the Norwegians were quick to stress they were seeking a happy ending.

The Fisheries Ministry said killing Keiko was not an option.

Spokesman Dag Paulsen said the Norwegian authorities were working with American researchers who knew Keiko, to try to find a solution.

"According to the information we have from them, it should be possible to coax the whale out of the coastal area in a humane and effective way by using food," he said.

Norway, which hunts whales despite a worldwide ban, does not hunt orca whales.

Keiko was positively identified because he was implanted with a chip before being released.

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

He was captured in 1979 at the age of just two.

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

03 Sep 02 | Entertainment
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