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Movie Star Whale Keiko Dies of Pneumonia

For kids, Keiko the killer whale was the charming hero of "Free Willy." For biologists, he was the focus of fierce debate on whether captive animals could be returned to the wild. Keiko, who died of pneumonia this week, never strayed far from humans, keeping company with them in a Norwegian fjord to the end.

Keiko's apparent love of human company and his popularity frustrated handlers' dreams that he would one day leave them in search of food on his own. Millions of dollars were spent trying to teach him to survive, but he didn't bond with other whales, apparently feared swimming under ice and died less than two years after he was freed.

"He spoke the language (of whales) but he just seemed to be confused," said Jeff Foster, whose Seattle-based group, Marine Research Consultants, oversaw Keiko's care in Iceland for three years before he was released in 2002.

Keiko's handlers noticed on Thursday he had become listless, and the six-ton orca died Friday afternoon despite veterinarians' efforts to save him.

"It was pretty sudden," his animal care specialist, Dane Richards, told The Associated Press. He said Keiko's handlers went out to check on him during a late afternoon blizzard and he was still alive. Two hours later, he had died.

Keiko, which means "Lucky One" in Japanese, was born in 1977 or 1978 off Iceland, and was caught for the aquarium industry in 1979.

Known for his distinctive, droopy dorsal fin, he gained fame as the star of the 1993 film "Free Willy," in which a boy befriends a captive killer whale and coaxes him to jump over a sea park wall to freedom. Two sequels featured animatronic models, film of wild orcas and leftover footage of Keiko, according to the president of the Oregon aquarium where he lived from 1996-1998.

The fame Keiko gained from the movies led to a $20 million drive to free him in real life after it was found he was languishing in poor conditions in a Mexico City amusement park. He was brought to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in 1996, and two years later was flown to Iceland.

Once there, handlers taught him to catch his own fish and interact with wild orca. He was finally released in mid-2002.

David Phillips, executive director of the San Francisco-based Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, said Keiko's plight changed public perception of whether a whale could be returned to the wild.

"We took the hardest candidate and took him from near death in Mexico to swimming with wild whales in Norway," he said. "Keiko proved a lot of naysayers wrong and that this can work and that is a very powerful thing."

But after 25 years in captivity, Keiko appeared to prefer human companionship. He swam straight for Norway on a 870-mile trek and settled in near a small village of Halsa on Norway's west coast in August or September 2002.

Once there, he became so listless that his team started feeding him up to 175 pounds of fish per day, and Keiko got handouts until the day he died.

The friendly, 25-foot whale swam up to small boats, and seemed to welcome people to swim with him and even crawl up on his back. Keiko became so popular that authorities banned people from approaching him and toured schools asking people to stay away.

The popularity made training a struggle for his keepers, who had been trying to keep fans away in the hope that Keiko, feeling a need to socialize, would seek out wild killer whales.

But people still came to see him, and Keiko seemed to like it.

"He was like the family dog; he wanted to be next to you," said Mark Collson, a board member for the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

In December 2002, Keiko's caretakers led him to Taknes Bay, a clear, calm pocket of coastal water deep enough that it doesn't freeze in winter. The bay is along orca migration routes and is more remote something his handlers hoped would force Keiko to seek out his own kind.

Keepers fed him there, but he was free to roam, and often did at night. In February, he swam under ice for the first time, apparently panicked and hurt himself trying to break through.

Orcas live an average of 35 years in the wild, and it wasn't clear how much Keiko's time in captivity or his reintroduction to the outside world contributed to his death.

Nick Braden, a spokesman of the Humane Society of the United States, said veterinarians gave Keiko antibiotics after he showed signs of lethargy, but it wasn't apparent how sick he was.

"They really do die quickly and there was nothing we could do," he said. "It's a really sad moment for us, but we do believe we gave him a chance to be in the wild."

Foster said the orca's handlers in Norway might not have detected early signs of illness, but it would have been hard to prevent his rapid slide.

"I think he was just getting older," Foster said. "Even a subtle change can be devastating to one of these animals ... once they get pneumonia or one of these viral diseases that are out there, they can go down pretty fast," he said.

After Keiko died, his keepers covered him with a tarp in the water, awaiting word on what to do next. Officials from the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation said they hoped for a land burial rather than disposal at sea.

"He has a nice resting place here, and went the way I would want to go," said Richards. "But you hate to see it."

Associated Press

When Funny Things Happen to You

I often had funny things happening to me, but what happened a few days ago broke all previous records. Even though I should be angry and slightly insulted at the mention of the incident, I cannot help laughing myself to death at the mere thought of it.

I was on my way home from somewhere on a rickshaw. There was, as usual, a huge traffic jam with a long queue of rickshaws in front of a lane near my house. My rickshaw puller broke the line and soon got into a fight with a relatively strong passenger from another rickshaw. (You will find out, in a second, why I call him strong). The man got off his rickshaw and started threatening my rickshaw puller. When my rick-puller answered back, the man went like, 'What did you say? I'll kill you today!' Deciding to remind him that he belongs to a more upper class family (!) and to show him that his punch can, in fact, kill, he slung his fist at my poor rick-puller. You should have seen from where he started swinging his fist… from waaaay behind his back! I thought to myself, 'There goes my rick-puller! That is definitely the end of him!' and silently said a short prayer for him. But my rick-puller was not someone to be fooled (I mean, to be beaten up easily). He ducked expertly, and that big, huge, gigantic punch landed on poor, old ME! The innocent victim. My bag, which was on my lap, was my saviour! It saved me from serious injury. How I love my bag! When I should have shouted my heart out at that guy and showered him with abusive language (why not?), I had a hard time trying to stifle my own laughter! It was not like I was in too much pain to notice how funny the situation was. It was even more fun to see how embarrassed and flustered that man was. After saying 'sorry' a few times, he decided against hitting my expert rick-puller. Thank God! Otherwise, I would probably have landed in the hospital with God knows how many broken bones!

Then, there was this other time when I had 'a great fall' in the school canteen. With the last day of school drawing near, we all had turned crazy, and were doing everything possible to enjoy ourselves to the fullest. These included becoming all childish (when weren't we?), playing during breaks, having water fights, paper fights and even mud fights during classes, and getting down the stairs rhythmically with everyone else at the end of the day. Anyway, getting back to where I began… we were playing OC (don't tell me you do not know what that is!). To save myself from losing the game, I jumped back when one of my friends jumped towards me, without noticing that there was a chair behind me. The chair was in the act of falling, when brave me decided to rescue it from its fall. Even though I myself was unbalanced, I grabbed the unbalanced chair instead, and in the process, fell with the chair landing on my lap! Sure it hurt, but it was too funny to let me cry. I should have been embarrassed, buy hey, it was all for the sake of the chair! I saved it from breaking any of its parts! (I should be praised for my heroic deed!) Next time, though, I think I will just allow it to fall. Had I simply worried about myself, I would not have injured myself below the knee the way I did.

I made a fool of myself several times at school. Once, during Biology class, I was probably mumbling to myself, (I was not talking to anyone… that bit I know) and my teacher got totally frustrated with me and challenged me to a competition. This is exactly what she said:

'Ok! Come and sit here in front of the class with me. Then let us have a competition. Either you make everyone listen to you, or I make everyone listen to me! Come on! Let us see who can do it!' It was unbelievable! How can someone say that to me… the goody-two-shoes?

There are several other incidents, which are way too funny, or rather embarrassing to write about. (I bet there are quite a few of my friends out there who know exactly what I am talking about). For the sake of privacy of some people, and for my own sake, I guess I will confine my article to these three incidents only!

By Marwa

Book review


The novel "CHILLER", by Sterling Blake, can be described as being fascinating, tense and entertaining. It is based on the existing cryonics movements and the marvels of medical science. For the people who don't know what I mean when I say 'cryonics', this means clinically suspending someone's dead body, with the purpose of future revival in simpler words "bringing back the dead" (no…not as zombies…but as complete human beings, coming back with their memories and personalities intact).

The novel starts off with the revival of a dog, (the pet of one scientist Alex) and the success of the operation. For Susan (one of the scientists conducting the operation), it is a big step the bringing back of an animal already clinically proven dead. However, for people all over the world, it seems an unnatural process. Even in the hospital, there were senior staff determined to destroy careers. The preachers in the church openly criticised all the experiments publicly. And one person George (calling himself God's soldier) seemed determined to put a stop to all this research, even if it meant committing murder.

After knowledge spreads about the revival of the dog (through a talk show), George grows determined enough to attack Susan and the dog brought back to life, succeeding in his efforts to kill both of them. Her colleague, Alex, upon getting the information, decides with the remaining scientists (Ray and Kathryn) to clinically suspend Susan. They do this peacefully until the police demand the right to conduct an autopsy. Determined to save their friend, the scientists hide her body, refusing to give the police any leads. News of Susan's suspension again spreads, along with disappearance of the body, and this brings George out to strike again, this time killing Alex and Kathryn. Ray clinically suspend them both, and goes public with the latest results and hopes. He stalls autopsy with the police, reassuring them that when the bodies are revived they can disclose the identity of the murderer. George flees with the help of a preacher and his brother Dr. Lomax (head of another rival hospital).

The ending I leave to you to find out yourself by reading the novel, but I can assure that it is enthralling and mesmerising enough to raise eyebrows. Anyone above 12 years of age is guaranteed to love it. A secret confession after reading this novel I gave cryonics a serious thought, and am seriously (supportively) considering clinical suspension in the future. After reading this novel, your views might match with mine, or they might differ. I'll soon follow with some more information about this latest bit of technology, so keep your eyes open!

By Jennifer Ashraf




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