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Hyak, the Vancouver Aquarium's star killer whale, got his...

By DEB van der GRACHT

VANCOUVER -- Hyak, the Vancouver Aquarium's star killer whale, got his first glimpse of two new lady companions Tuesday.

All indications were he liked what he saw, but it wasn't exactly love at first sight as far as the young Icelandic females were concerned.

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Aquarium staff coaxed Finna and Bjossa into custom-made canvas slings and lifted them one at a time, with the help of a 50-ton crane, from the holding tank they had called home for the last month to their new abode: a small holding pool attached to Hyak's in the public viewing area.

During the transfer, Hyak was separated from the two females by a metal trap door between the two pools. But during the one-and-a-half hour transfer, he peered over the top of the door as best he could -- one eye at a time.

'He's known something was going on all morning,' said aquarium spokesman Ray Lord. 'He's really curious.'

The two females, however, did not seem as enamored with the new arrangement. Looking happier to see each other than a strange male, they swam in contented slow circles, chatting away and only occasionally glanced in Hyak's direction.

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'The transfer went very smoothly,' said chief trainer Klaus Michaelis. 'And Hyak is very happy to see them and can hardly wait to get together with them.'

When the water in the small pool was raised to the same level as that in Hyak's pool, aquarium staff replaced the metal door with a nylon mesh one which allowed the whales to see each other under water.

'I don't know when we'll (remove the mesh door and) introduce them,' said curator Gil Hewlett. 'We want to give them a chance to talk and get to know each other first.' Training of the two females would start within a week.

Finna and Bjossa, flown in from Reykjavik with two others in December, are between five and seven years old, weigh about 850 kilograms (1,870 pounds) and are about 4 meters (12 feet) long. They cost the aquarium $200,000 each, said director Dr. Murray Newman.

Hyak, 15 years old and the star of the show since another whale died in October, weighs about four times as much as his female friends at 3,800 kgs. (8,360 lbs) and is half again as long at 6.4 meters (19 feet).

The two females would remain in the back holding pool until they are transferred to aquariums in Japan and California.

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