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'Free Willy' was a movie, Menique is real


Ecologists hope dolphin rescued from Chile can be set free

April 16, 1997
Web posted at: 7:56 p.m. EDT (2356 GMT)

From Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman

HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- He may not be as famous as the star of "Free Willy," but like the whale in that 1993 movie, a dolphin named Menique has been rescued from treacherous owners and brought to safety -- in this case, Havana's National Aquarium.

Animal rights organizations caring for Menique (which, in English, means 'little finger,' or 'pinky') eventually plan to release the 7-year-old dolphin back into the waters off Cuba, his original home.

Covered in protective lanolin and sprayed with water, Menique (pronounced: men-YEE-kay) arrived on Monday in Cuba from Iquique, Chile, where he'd lived for two years.

The 20-hour flight followed a long legal battle to obtain the dolphin's release. Ecologists who won the case said Menique's Chilean owners had kept him under deplorable conditions.

"He was so thin you could see his bones through his skin," said South Florida wildlife rehabilitationist Lloyd Brown. "His skin was covered with sores."

Good chance of survival in wild

While returning Menique to Cuban waters is the goal, no one can say just how long that will take.

Releasing sea mammals back into their natural habitat is not easy, but in the case of Menique, there's reason for optimism.


Because he lived in the wild for five years before being captured and sold to Chile, Menique should still be able to remember the basics of fending for himself, an animal expert said.

"All the dolphins we've released into the wild have adapted well and joined new pods," says Dr. Celia Guevara, a marine biologist and daughter of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

Even after his long ordeal, returning home may be Menique's biggest adventure yet.


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