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'Free' Whale Is Welcomed by Norwegians

September 03, 2002|From Associated Press

OSLO — Keiko, the killer whale who became famous as the star of "Free Willy," has turned up in a Norwegian fiord, six weeks after he was returned to the wild from his pen in Iceland.

"It's definitely him. We have tracked him from Iceland," Fernando Ugarte, part of the team monitoring the orca's progress, said by telephone Monday from a ship in the fiord.

After Keiko spent most of his life in captivity, volunteers for years trained him for life in the wild. He was released from his pen in Iceland in July and swam nearly 870 miles to a western Norwegian fiord.

The orca surprised and delighted Norwegians, who petted and swam with him, and climbed on his back as he splashed in the Skaalvik Fiord, about 250 miles northwest of Oslo.

Newspapers expressed tongue-in-cheek surprise over the whale coming to Norway, since the oil-rich Scandinavian nation of 4.5 million people commercially hunts whales despite a global whaling ban.

However, Norway's whalers only hunt minke whales.

Ugarte is monitoring the whale on behalf of the Ocean Futures Society and the Humane Society of the United States. He said Keiko was in excellent shape but still seems to prefer humans to other whales.

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