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Keiko 300 miles from Iceland

HSUS Press Release

August 13th, 2002

Map from Orca Network

For an orca who has spent most of his life around people, Keiko appears content this summer to swim with the vast marine life that populates the North Atlantic Ocean, raising the possibility that his quest for freedom is nearly complete.

As of Tuesday, August 13, teams determined that the world's most famous whale was about 100 miles north of the Faroe Islands and about 300 miles east of his sea pen in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.

The sheer distance of Keiko's travels since July 15, when he last left his sea pen after a small meal, makes Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for The HSUS, believe the orca has learned to eat on his own. "The distance Keiko is traveling each day would be debilitating if he weren't eating," Rose says. "He just couldn't keep swimming those distances if he were malnourished."

What's more, data from Keiko's satellite tag indicate he's often diving 40 to 60 meters, Rose says, which is consistent with the depths typically reached during foraging and feeding.

"We are astonished by Keiko's progress," says Rose. "He is making quantum leaps forward in the long effort to set him free. We have good reason to hope that he is on the verge of true independence."

But Rose and others won't know for certain until they can visually inspect Keiko, something they have been unable to do since July 27. Teams had been tracking the orca closely, from about a mile or two back, until July 31 when storms forced them back into harbor. The August 13 location was determined via satellite tracking, which provides readings once a day.

Earlier, an aerial observation team, using a satellite reading from August 9, went to scout the satellite's coordinates in the North Atlantic. What the team found was an area teeming with marine life. Although he wasn't spotted himself, Keiko's unique radio signal was coming in loud and clear in an area where many cetaceans, including dolphins and whales, are feeding on blue whiting and herring.

The HSUS and Keiko's handlers will continue to monitor Keiko via satellite and will strive for a visual confirmation of his condition. A visual of Keiko will give The HSUS a clear idea if he's eating. If the orca is not consuming fresh fish, says Richard Farinato, HSUS director of captive wildlife protection, the whale will show a noticeable loss of weight in the neck area.

This is an important period in the 2002 feeding season off Iceland. In a few more weeks, the orcas and other cetaceans in the North Atlantic will move to their winter feeding grounds, of which little or nothing is known. At that point, Keiko will have to decide what he wants to do.

"If he stays with other whales, he should find food all winter long and may indeed return to Vestmannaeyjar in the spring," Rose notes. "If he is alone, we will have to assess our options with the idea of doing what's best for Keiko."

Press Release from HSUS