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UPS Takes on Whale of a Job _ Shipping Keiko

December 6, 1995 GMT

NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) _ United Parcel Service is taking on a whale of a job.

The package carrier will wing Keiko the killer whale from Mexico City to his new home at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. For free.

``We pride ourselves on being able to handle any delivery,″ district manager Mike Piedra said Tuesday.

The 21-foot-long, 7,000-pound star of the ``Free Willy″ movies will travel in a fiberglass, steel and plywood box shipped in a C-130 Hercules transport plane, accompanied by veterinarians and trainers on the 8 1/2-hour flight. He’ll travel the last five miles to his new home aboard a flatbed truck. He’s due to arrive on Jan. 7.

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The entire package, including whale and water, will weigh about 40,000 pounds.

Keiko suffers from skin lesions, low body weight and a suppressed immune system. His new home will have 2 million gallons of ocean water, about four times the size of the chlorinated tank he lives in now.

The 17-year-old whale was 2 when he was captured. He’s performed at the Mexico City aquarium for the past 10 years.

The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation has raised $6.8 million of the estimated $8.5 million needed for the project.