'Free Willy' Star Soon To Be Free

Keiko, a famous killer whale known to most movie-goers, is soon to leave its Oregon home for Iceland, reports Correspondent Chris Legeros of CBS Affiliate KIRO-TV in Seattle.

The star of Free Willy was rescued two years ago from a Mexican amusement park, where he had been in poor health, and was transferred to the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The goal: To eventually return the whale to the wild.

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In the two and a half years since Keiko arrived in Oregon, trainers have seen dramatic changes. By September, the whale will be ready for the last stage in its rehabilitation. That will be a trip to a sea pen in Iceland.

"Here is an animal that could only hold his breath for three minutes underwater the day he arrived. He is well over 18 minutes now," said animal care director Nolan Harvey.

For now, Keiko is alone in his concrete pool where the sounds he hears are not natural, unlike what he will experience in Iceland.

"Imagine an animal that has been away from his species for 15 years," said Harvey.

But before the whale is set free, the trainers are trying to make sure it can fend for itself and is in top physical condition.

"I use a great analogy," said Harvey. "Imagine being a marathon runner, and you've done all your training inside a basketball gym. It's time to take the athlete on to the road."

The Free Willy/ Keiko Foundation admits the whale may never learn enough to be set free, but feels strongly that a sea pen in Iceland will still offer Keiko a richer more natural life than a concrete pool.

A military transport plane is being arranged to carry him non stop to Iceland

Written by KIRO correspondent Chris Legeros