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Recovered 'Free Willy' star swims with delight

keiko.eats January 8, 1997
Web posted at: 9:30 a.m. EST

NEWPORT, Oregon (CNN) -- A year after Keiko -- the famed killer whale who starred in the hit movie "Free Willy" -- arrived in Oregon, the beloved orca swims, dives and leaps with a vibrant zest for life.

Near death a year ago, Keiko has shed a host of health problems. Leisons that once dotted his black-and-white coat have vanished and his once-droopy dorsal fin has raised almost a foot.

He also has put on a healthy 1,000 pounds, feasting on delectable fish as if he were a king at his $7.3 million rehabilitation facility at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Keiko responds to food with a high-pitched squeal. icon (400K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

But most importantly, Keiko is more confident, curious and mentally stimulated, according to staff member Nolan Harvey, who has helped Keiko recover after his move from a Mexico City amusement park.

both treat

Pointing to Keiko freely cruising the aquarium, Harvey adds that one of the greatest "sticking points" in the whale's recovery was getting him to enter a tank for medical exams.

The orca's arrival has also boosted the aquarium's financial health. The Oregon Coast Aquarium had more than 1.3 million visitors in 1996, an increase of some 700,000 from the year before.

"You got it all. You got it all," one on-looker told Keiko.

 
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