The Ministry of Fisheries and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority has granted permission for moving three beluga whales from Shanghai to the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, reports RÚV.
The whales are owned by the international corporation Merlin Entertainments, which is one of the biggest operator of amusement parks in the world, and Elliði Vignisson, the mayor of Vestmannaeyjar is excited by the altruistic project.
“I have no doubt that the venture will be well received as this is mainly an animal welfare project,” Elliði told RÚV. “Merlin’s policy is to show the animals in a setting that most resembles their natural habitat, and the operation in Shanghai didn’t fit that goal.”
The plan is for the belugas to be on display as part of a larger exhibition of sea creatures.
In the footsteps of Keikó
This is not the first time Vestmannaeyjar have tried to import whales, as in 1998, Keikó—star of the 1993 hit film “Free Willy”—was transported from Oregon to the archipelago. Originally from Iceland, the killer whale was captured in 1979 and moved to the US where he received training from the US Navy.
“Free Willy” performed well at the box office, making $153.6 million from it’s $20 million budget leading to three sequels. Keikó, however, did not appear in any of the subsequent movies, with casting directors choosing a robotic double to play Willy from “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home” onwards. The financial success of the movie made Keikó the biggest box office draw in Icelandic film history.
A falling star
Despite his name meaning “the lucky one” in Japanese, Keikó, like so many Hollywood child stars, suffered a pretty miserable end to his life. Having been shafted from the “Free Willy” franchise, he moved to an enclosure in Vestmannaeyjar. The whole Icelandic nation watched in anticipation as his plane landed. His star might have faded in La La Land, but in his native country his prestigious status remained.
Things were not to last, however. Swimming around in his small enclosure, getting fat, with his fin drooping further and further to the side, depression set in, and the people of Iceland followed closely as the king of Icelandic stardom withered away before their eyes.
In the end, it was decided that the best course of action was to set Keikó free, with the hope that getting away from the probing eyes of the paparazzi and the public would do him good. Sadly, however, after trying unsuccessfully to join several different orca groups he died out of pneumonia in Norway in 2003.
Keikó, like so many of history’s greatest artists died at the age of 27. Joining Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse in the 27 club. We are certain that his whale song has contributed greatly to the supergroup in the sky.
“Nothing like Keikó”
Despite the obvious similarities, Elliði claims that things are very different this time around.
“Keikó was moved here with the intention of releasing him into the wild, but the window for releasing these three animals is shut,” Elliði said. “They are, and always will be, entertainment animals, but we must ensure that the entertainment element is follows their considerations.”
Free the belugas.
We can only hope that some studio hack commissions the making of the film “Free the Belugas” or “Beluga Boogie”, or “The Beluga Breakout” about our latest whale superstars. Seeing as the oldest of the animals is only 14-years-old, there is plenty of time to make them film stars before they die at 27.
Are belugas tasty? Asking for a friend.