The $1 million that Free Willy 3: The Rescue made at the box office when it opened last weekend didn’t float anybody’s boat. But it did prompt us to wonder: What’s become of Keiko, the killer whale who starred in 1993’s original Free Willy? Several months after that movie’s release, when it was revealed that the sickly whale had been languishing in a tiny tank in a Mexico City amusement park, Keiko’s plight became national news. In January 1996 he was flown to a custom-built aquarium in Newport, Ore. Keiko has since gained 1,900 pounds and grown eight inches. ”He was in such bad shape,” says the Free Willy Keiko Foundation’s Diane Hammond, ”we thought it might take years to rehabilitate him.” But Keiko has made such rapid progress that plans are to move him to a sea pen next year, where he’ll be evaluated for release into the wild — a feat never attempted with a captive killer whale. Scientists are hoping to locate Keiko’s family; more realistically, they hope to attract a pod of whales who will adopt him as their own. ”But the final decision will be up to Keiko,” says Hammond. ”Once we open up the gates, it’s his choice to go. If he wants to stay, we won’t abandon him.”
Posted August 22 1997 — 12:00 AM EDT
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