A whale of an ending for Free Willy

KEIKO, THE killer whale who starred in the hit film Free Willy, arrived safely in Iceland yesterday.

It was tears for his fans in Oregon, in the United States, as they waved goodbye to their famous Hollywood resident and smiles in Iceland as he arrived on the rugged, volcanic Vestmann Islands just off the mainland.

He was flown from the US to Iceland aboard a C-17, one of the world's largest aircraft. The Vestmann Islands runway is designed only for light aircraft, and with just a few hundred yards to play with a heavy landing was unavoidable. The aircraft was damaged and the waiting crowd became anxious, but moments later Keiko appeared looking unscathed and his tank was rolled onto a lorry.

The curious and the global media had turned out in their hundreds to witness the arrival of this unusual parcel. The lorry - with a police escort - looked like a carnival float with a live killer whale on board. Keiko was then loaded by crane onto a barge and sailed off to his pounds 1.5m floating pen in a bay.

The last time I saw Keiko he was underweight and had a nasty skin disease after spending years in a cramped pool in Mexico City. His recovery was clear as he was lifted out of his tank and lowered into the water. The five-ton fellow - who has put on at least a ton since he left Mexico two and a half years ago - looked well considering he had just flown 4,000 miles.

Keiko's new enclosure is the closest he has come to his native North Atlantic environment since his capture in the Seventies. His floating pen, the size of a football pitch, is all that separates him from the ocean.

But not everyone was happy about his arrival in Iceland. John Gunnarsunn caught Keiko off the coast of Iceland 19 years ago. He says he was just doing his job. Now he is not keen to catch up with the orca he sold to a company across the Atlantic.

"These Americans are crazy" he said. "Why bring Keiko back here after so long in captivity? There are plenty of killer whales left in the wild here. Why spend so much money on a whale when children starve in Sudan."

Keiko has been dependent on humans all his life, and his progress in his Icelandic pen will determine the timing of his release. He must learn to catch fish, adapt to the cold water and find a family of whales - a pod - that will accept him. Conservationists believe that Keiko's keepers are attempting the impossible.

"We just want what's best for Keiko," said Diane Hammond of the Free Willy Keiko Foundation. "He will not be released until many obstacles have been overcome. If release is not possible then there are other options. Keiko can remain in the pen, have more freedom in the bay or even be a commuting whale; he can swim out to the ocean and then come back to the pen for food. As long as we can say we did everything we could for Keiko we will be happy."

The locals are well aware of the benefits Keiko can bring. An increase in tourism is expected and the government has given permission for the local school to have lessons from within Keiko's pen. "We are so lucky," 10-year-old Gurronn said. "How many children get to study a killer whale close up and meet a movie star in one go?"

Yesterday, Keiko was nursing his sore muscles after his long journey. He seemed to be adapting well to his new home. The final chapter of his adventure remains unwritten. Whether it will have the same fairy tale ending as the movie he starred in - when he won his freedom with a dramatic leap over a harbour wall - remains to be seen.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Sales Account Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company leads the market i...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager - Cyber Security

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Manager for Cyber Secur...

Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst - Application Support - Central London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst (App...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engineer (Windows Server, Exchange Server)

£35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engine...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum