KEIKO WANTS HUMANS, WOMAN SAYS

September 19, 2002 11:00 pm
WHALE TALKER: Bonnie Norton is so enamored of Keiko the killer whale that she has personalized license plates. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
WHALE TALKER: Bonnie Norton is so enamored of Keiko the killer whale that she has personalized license plates. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Ted Kramer

Observer Staff Writer

The fate of Keiko the killer whale isn't just a passing fancy to Bonnie Norton of Elgin. It's her passion.

Norton, a self-proclaimed animal communicator, believes Keiko prefers people to whales and that his health depends on being able to interact with humans.

Norton is on a campaign to rally support for seeing that Keiko's needs are addressed. She's spent the past week in Eugene and Portland trying to rally support for returning Keiko to a place where he can interact with people.

"Keiko has helped so many people. We have to do what we can to help him,'' said Norton, who was so moved after visits to see Keiko at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in 1997 and '98 that she ordered license plates that read, "4 KEIKO.''

She's been on a Keiko mission ever since and has even written a screenplay about her experiences.

Norton's bond with the popular star of the "Free Willy'' movie runs deeper than even the most adamant of Keiko's fans. As an animal communicator, Norton claims she can communicate telepathically with the whale — an ability she believes everyone has but dismisses when they are children.

Norton knew, she said, that Keiko was longing to interact with people even before he turned up Sept. 2 frolicking with swimmers in a Norway fjord.

Her communications with Keiko in 1997 and '98 had her convinced the whale preferred people to freedom. Reports in early August that Keiko was swimming free in the ocean with a pod of whales had her perplexed. Why the change of heart? she wondered.

Norton claims that on Aug. 8 Keiko told her, telepathically of course, that "If the people won't come to me, I will go to the people.''

She logged the communication on her Web site, www.animalmessenger.com.

Norton said she wasn't surprised that Keiko swam 800 miles to be near people in Norway.

"I believe most people who have heard of Keiko's interactions with people in Norway or have seen the photographs of Keiko with the children lying on his back and swimming with him, know in their hearts that this is what Keiko truly wants,'' Norton said.

And those are the people she is hoping to reach.

Keiko's owners, the Keiko Free Willy Foundation, are adamant that the experiment to return the whale to the wild remains the priority. Mark Berman, assistant director of the foundation, has said he hopes people's interaction with Keiko can be minimized. On Thursday, Keiko's handlers said they are looking for a place for Keiko to winter, a "place with more killer whales, less people and a local community that is supportive.''

Norton counters that the experiment has failed, that Keiko wants and needs human interaction. She's hoping others will join her cause. Believing in animal communication isn't a prerequisite, she said.

"I'm not trying to change the world. I'm just trying to get the word out,'' Norton said.

She suggests that people send e-mails in support of Keiko to the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ; to Nick Braden of the Humane Society of the U.S. at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ; or to Mark Berman at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it