Keiko Seems As Happy As A Clam

Keiko the killer whale is being a good sport after a long journey to his native waters.

Children greeted him and ran alongside the truck that took him to his ocean home reports CBS News Correspondents Liz Gonzalez and John Blackstone.

After 19 years in captivity, the former movie star arrived in Iceland in a custom-built container aboard a U.S. air force cargo plane from Oregon.

Weighing in at more than 9,000 pounds, Keiko was coaxed into shallow water, fitted into a custom-made harness, and lifted gently from his tank.

But just as in the movie Free Willy that made him famous, this amusement-park whale is home but not completely free.

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For now, he has moved to a sea pen. It is hoped that he will one day be completely free, but it is possible that he will spend the rest of his life in captivity.

"Keiko's in the ocean, but he's not in the wild. He's still confined in a space which is protecting him from the environment and other animals, as well as allowing him an opportunity soon to adjust to being back in a natural environment," says Louis Garibaldi, director of the New York Aquarium.

Despite all of the efforts to return Keiko to his home, there is some concern he may never adjust to living in the wild.

"This animal has been in captivity for 19 years, where all of the psychological, social, and nutritional needs have been provided by people."

Keiko may not be accepted by other killer whales in the area. The Keiko Foundation that has spent more than $12 million, including $2 million for the move to Ideland, is committed to supporting Keiko for the rest of his life, if necessary.

Keiko's bid for freedom has its roots in Hollywood. In the 1993 box-office hit Free Willy, about an orca threatened by a villainous amusement-park owner, the whale (played by Keiko) leaps over a harbor breakwall to freedom in the open ocean.

Real life wasn't so tidy. It was learned that Keiko was languishing and deteriorating in a cramped tank at a Mexico City amusement park and had no prospects of getting out.

School kids collected pennies to help save him. Warner Bros. and cellular-phone billionaire Craig McCaw kicked in millions more to bring the whale to the Oregon tank to recuperate from lung infections and warty lesions, all with the aim of one day setting him free.

More than two years and $12 million later, Keiko has regained his strength, put on at least a ton of muscle and blubber and has taken lessons to catch (instead of being hand-fed) a daily diet of 145 pounds of fish.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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