Dr. Lanny Cornell, veterinarian for the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, gave Keiko a complete physical last month. The exam included lifting him from his rehabilitation pool and weighing him for the first time since his arrival on January 7, 1996. In order to examine and weigh Keiko, Dr. Cornell and his staff moved him into the facility's smaller medical pool, guided him into a nylon sling and lifted him from the water with the help of a construction crane. A scale suspended from the crane registered Keiko's weight at 9,620 pounds, a total weight gain of 1,900 lbs. since his arrival.
"We're very pleased at his progress," said Dr. Cornell. "He was a ton underweight just 18 months ago, and he now looks and acts like a completely different animal." Keiko's staff have been monitoring his growth and weight gain by taking regular measurements. Since his arrival, he has grown eight inches and added three feet in girth.
Keiko's current weight will be added to other baseline data being gathered this year on the killer whale. The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation is also working with scientists affiliated with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of California at Santa Cruz to learn more about Keiko's physiology, acoustics and behavior. Keiko's low body weight was one of several problems he experienced during his years at a Mexico City amusement park. He was also in poor cardiovascular condition due to a pool that was too small, and had large areas of skin lesions on his pectoral flippers and above his tail flukes, caused by a normally benign papillomavirus.
In the course of his examination, Dr. Cornell also removed pieces of a tooth from Keiko's lower right jaw that was damaged during his stay in Mexico City. This is not expected to affect his ability to hunt successfully.
Keiko is also being introduced to live herring, a first step in reorienting him to eating live fish. While he has shown a keen interest in these fish, he follows them through the water without eating them. Live fish will now be introduced into the pool weekly.
In addition to undertaking a year of scientific research, the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation has set as one of its next goals, moving Keiko to a North Atlantic bay pen sometime next year. Preliminary work is already underway.
The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1994. Its mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and attempt to return captive and stranded cetaceans to their native habitats through operating a state-of-the-art cold-water rehabilitation facility at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Donations for Keiko's ongoing care can be made to the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, 2925 S.E. Ferry Slip Rd., #81, Newport, OR 97365. For more information, call (800) 4-WHALES or (541) 867-3542. You can also E-mail keiko
Editor's Note: You can bet that when Keiko is released, we will again be on the scene to report this momentous occasion. Tears come to my eyes just thinking about it!
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