Date: 1/2/2003

Oslo – Keiko, the killer whale star of the Free Willy movies, will never be able to fully re-adapt to life in the wild despite a US$20 million rehabilitation programme, Norwegian experts said recently.

What we are exposing this whale to verges on cruelty to animals. I absolutely cannot understand that someone could believe that an animal so influenced by man could become wild again, veterinarian and researcher Finn Berntsen said.

After spending most of his 25 years in captivity, Keiko was in 1998 transferred from the United States to Iceland to begin a programme aimed at helping him re-adapt to life in the wild.

Four years and US$20 million later, Keiko has yet to prove that he can live on his own. Released in July in Iceland, he swam some 1,400km before deciding to settle in Norway, paradoxically the only country in the world that defies an international ban on commercial whaling.

But he is still dependent on his team of guardian angels, who follow his every move in the wild, to feed him the 50kg of fish that he requires each day.

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