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Shamu, Shamu…The Dark History Behind The Chant

April 5, 2011

At SeaWorld all the whales are known as Shamu, even though each orca has their own individual name. During the orca shows, the trainers pump the crowd by chanting “Shamu, Shamu” as they clap their hands high in the air. This chant… is in its own way is a tribute to the dark days of the brutal orca captures that many are not aware of. Next time you enjoy the chanting of Shamu please remember the history that goes with that name.

SeaWorld representatives have been quoted as saying:

animal rights extremists sole objective is denying
Americans the privilege of experiencing marine mammals in places like SeaWorld

Sharing Shamu’s story with the public is part of that “privilege” that Americans should be aware of, it is part of our history. Our intentions are not to deny Americans of anything….our intentions are to share what was denied to the orcas that have been placed in captivity….after all we really are not above the animals society places in captivity. Mankind just figured out that they can over power marine mammals and take them for profit.

This footage was discovered in 2009. King 5-TV reporter Don McGaffin began work on a story about the captures of orcas in Puget Sound. In August of 1971 SeaWorld acquired Kona & Kandu at Penn Cove in WA state (seen here in this graphic footage). 2 of the 3 killer whales captured here went to SeaWorld of California (the first SW). This capture was a significant event in the formation of the multibillion dollar corporation.

In October of 1965 Shamu was captured. Ted Griffin captured Shamu and her mom from the waters of Puget Sound. Shamu was the fourth wild orca to be captured. During Ted Griffins Orca hunting days he would kill many orcas due to them not meeting the needs for the industry standards for public display, similar to the dolphin Taiji hunts today. One of these orcas was Shamu’s mom. Griffin shot her with a harpoon and she drowned right in front of baby Shamu.

The adult female, dying of her harpoon wounds, opened her blowhole and dove, drowning herself. The calf was netted and hauled in to the pen.

Orca capture


Griffin made no apologies about the whales that died in the hunts, including Shamu’s mother. SeaWorld comments regarding this matter is simply stated as “it is a sad, ancient history.” Yet every time the Shamu chant is done that history becomes the present.

Shamu was named after Namu. Namu was accidentally caught in a fisherman’s net one evening. Namu was sold to Ted Griffin and Griffin would eventually capture Shamu to be a companion for Namu. Shamu was traumatized by the capture, her mother’s violent death, and she didn’t get along with Namu, thus Shamu was eventually sold to SeaWorld.

Shamu died on August 23, 1971 from an infection of her blood and uterus after living just 6 years in captivity.

Shamu got her name from Namu, She+Namu=Shamu. Even though Shamu and Namu were not compatible her name implies they were. To add Namu into SeaWorld’s orca legacy  seems kinda sick and twisted in many ways.

  • Namu’s capture was very traumatic to him, the wild orca pods and even some of the locals who witnessed the event.
  • Namu’s capture would lead to the beginning of many more deaths to wild orcas
  • Namu’s capture and death led to future violent rounding up of entire pods of wild orcas, to have many of them killed or taken into captivity, through the use of explosives.

Namu’s story is very sad. Namu drowned by tangling himself in the cables of his pen trying to escape just one year after being placed in the Seattle Aquarium.

Late on the evening of June 22, a local salmon fisherman named Bill Lechkobit was caught in a sudden gale south of Namu, at the mouth of Warrior Cove. To avoid being swept onto the rocks, Lechkobit cut loose his net and headed for a safe harbour. Early the next morning, his friend and fellow seiner Bob McGarvey emerged from the cove to find two killer whales trapped inside the abandoned net. One was an adult bull, about 6.5 metres long; the other was a young calf.

As McGarvey watched, the current suddenly opened the end of the net and he saw the bull swim free, only to return inside the circle of mesh when the calf would not follow. McGarvey and Lechkobit, who had returned to the scene, realized they had a prize on their hands. Moby Doll had received so much publicity that fishermen all along the coast knew the value of a live killer whale.

They secured the captives with more netting, and within a few hours they had sent word to the outside world that they had a couple of whales for sale. Prospective buyers, including the Vancouver Aquarium’s Murray Newman, immediately flew to the tiny cannery village, but they were all dismayed by the asking price, $25,000 per whale. Which, of course, did not include the expense of transporting the animals south. The deal seemed even less attractive a few days later when the calf escaped. Since it was really the younger, smaller whale that the rival aquariums wanted, the captors found themselves with one remaining overpriced animal that might escape at any time and had a healthy appetite for salmon. Meanwhile, they weren’t getting any fishing done.

McGarvey and his friend decided to make a final offer:

“The first person here with $8,000 in cash gets the whale.”

This spurred Ted Griffin into action. Griffin was the 29-year-old owner of the Seattle Marine Aquarium, a facility he had opened on the city’s waterfront in 1962. Unlike most of the other aquarium representatives, he was an entrepreneur and a showman, not a scientist. Griffin had long sought a killer whale for his facility. He had spent many hours patrolling Puget Sound by helicopter and boat looking for a specimen, and he wasn’t about to let this one get away. He had already been up to Namu, but his initial offer had been refused.

When news of the final price reached him in Seattle, it was a Saturday night and the banks had closed. Griffin grabbed a couple of shopping bags and set out along the waterfront, calling on hotels and restaurants and writing them cheques for whatever cash they had in their tills. Before the weekend was over, his bags were stuffed with small bills and he was on a flight north, accompanied by a gun-toting former Mountie he picked up in Vancouver as a security detail.

Griffin got his whale, which he christened Namu. (Subsequent research has found that it was C11, a member of one of the northern resident pods. C11 was a 20-year-old male whose mother, C5, known as Kwattna, lived until 1995, when she died at the ripe old age of 71.) He then faced the challenge of moving his four-tonne acquisition 700 kilometres along some of the most treacherous waters on the Pacific coast. Although no one knew it at the time, Griffin was pioneering the technique that Springer’s rescuers would use 37 years later. With the help of local fishermen, he welded several tonnes of steel bars into a three-sided pen about 12 by 18 metres and six metres deep, kept afloat by empty oil drums scavenged from a local salvage company. A net hung across the open side of the pen.

Meanwhile, other whales regularly visited Namu at Warrior Cove. Some of them were large males with dorsal fins towering two metres in the air. Others were cows and calves. Their high-pitched whistles and squeaks echoed against the rocky shore in a plaintive symphony. On one occasion, as many as three dozen whales showed up to support Namu, splashing around the net, tails lobbing and vocalizing. While most of these whales came and went, one cow and her two calves, presumably members of Namu’s family group, remained near the net almost continuously.

Once Griffin got his makeshift cage into the water, it was towed to Warrior Cove, where Namu was coaxed into it. Griffin hired a local purse seiner, the Chamiss Bay, to tow the pen as far as Port Hardy, and on July 9, it set off, accompanied by the Robert E. Lee, a 10-metre pleasure tug owned by Seattle disc jockey Bob Hardwick. For the entire trip, a small group of journalists aboard the Lee filed daily stories about Namu’s progress, building public interest in the operation. Also aboard the Lee was Gil Hewlett, a 24-year-old biologist “donated” by the Vancouver Aquarium to assist in the transfer. Hewlett was the lone Canadian involved in the expedition. Journalist Sylvia Fraser described him as “a handsome towhead who was never seen to wear shoes and who looked like a beach boy left over from the latest surf-side movie.”

A violent goodbye

At Port Hardy, the Chamiss Bay left to go seining and the tow was taken up by the Ivor Foss, a Seattle tug. Two hours out of Port Hardy, a group of about 10 whales were spotted in the distance converging on the pen. Hewlett described what happened in his journal.

“When they are within 300 yards of the pen, Namu lets out a terrifying squeal, almost like a throttled cat. He leaps out of the water and crashes against the left corner of the pen. There was terrific thrashing and he is making all kinds of sounds. Then they are there again, the same family of the cow and two calves. They came straight up behind the pen to about 10 feet away, tremendous squealing going on. Namu seemed to lose all co-ordination in the pen. He kept getting swept against the cargo net and swimming vigorously forward. The family unit circles around towards the end of the pen. Those of us on the pen are yelling and screaming at the top of our lungs. “This is an incredible experience. The excitement is almost overwhelming.”

Once the tow passed through Seymour Narrows, however, the other whales disappeared. (Years later researchers would learn that the narrows form a boundary between the typical ranges of the northern and southern residents.) On the southern coast, the little flotilla was joined by a growing fleet of pleasure boaters who were curious to see the captive killer. Members of the crew kept busy warning the sightseers to keep their distance. A team of researchers from the Boeing Company’s acoustic division had arrived. They were taping Namu’s vocalizations for possible application in anti-submarine warfare, and the constant roar of boat engines was interfering with their recording.

At one point, the whale developed blisters on his dorsal fin. Sunburn, it was decided. The convoy was stopped at Deep Bay, opposite the southern end of Denman Island, and Hewlett went off to track down some zinc oxide lotion. He telephoned Jane Van Roggen, a member of the Vancouver Aquarium board who was holidaying in the area and together they drove around to all the local pharmacies. “When we told the pharmacist we needed enough zinc oxide for a killer whale,” Hewlett recalled, “he/she either laughed uncontrollably or looked at us incredulously, saying ‘zinc oxide only comes in two-ounce tubes!’ We bought every tube in the area and took them back to Deep Bay.”

Attaching a brush to the end of a bamboo pole, Don Goldsberry, a collector from the aquarium in Tacoma who was part of the transfer team, painted the fin with the zinc oxide mixed with mineral oil. Namu didn’t much like it — indeed, after one coating, he wouldn’t let Goldsberry get close again with the brush — but it seemed to work. At Deep Bay, where the convoy was held up by storm warnings, two young boys with a boat charged 75 cents to take spectators out to view the whale. Meanwhile, at the village’s only phone booth, journalists lined up to call in their stories.

Marketing Namu

On July 25, the saltwater caravan reached Deception Pass at the north end of Whidbey Island, where it paused to wait for a tide change. When Hewlett looked up at the bridge that spanned the pass, what he saw astonished him. “The bridge is crowded with people, as are the banks on both sides,” Hewlett wrote in his journal. “There must be 5,000 people, with cars lined back for miles on each side. Namu rolls twice and then gave a smack with flukes. The crowd, upon seeing this, gave a cheer — then the Lee and the Ivor blew their foghorns. I think for the first time, all of us realize how big this whole thing is.”

Three days later, welcomed by a flotilla of boats, swooping helicopters, water skiers, go-go dancers and a brass band, Namu reached his future home at Pier 56 on the Seattle waterfront.

Namu was a public relations bonanza that Griffin, whose aquarium needed a financial shot in the arm, exploited to the limit. The whale’s image appeared on everything from sweatshirts to colouring books. Namu was front-page news not just in Seattle but around the world. His voice was used at station breaks on Bob Hardwick’s radio station. The pilots of passenger jets arriving at the airport reported on his health as routinely as they gave the local weather report. A nightclub launched a new dance craze, the “Namu,” including moves like the dorsal, the spray and the dive. Griffin was filmed in his wetsuit riding on Namu’s back, gripping the tall dorsal fin.

Within a year, the whale was starring in his own Hollywood movie, Namu the Killer Whale. In the film, a biologist played by the ruggedly handsome Robert Lansing convinces the people in a hostile coastal fishing community that killer whales are not the deadly predators they loathe and fear. Lansing actually did some of his own stunt work, going into the water to ride on Namu’s back. These images of a benign, playful, endearing animal, no more dangerous than a large dolphin, reinforced the change that was taking place in the mind of the public about the nature of killer whales.

Namu lived for a year at the Seattle aquarium before he drowned by tangling himself in the cables of his pen trying to escape.


CREDIT SOURCE FOR INFORMATION- the book Operation Orca by Daniel Francis and Gil Hewlett (2007).

10 Comments leave one →
  1. seattleite permalink
    April 5, 2011 3:22 pm

    thanks for this story, heart breaking as it is. people need to understand the history behind these marine parks, as well as what goes on now. once people learn, it’s unbelievable they could continue to pay money and support these places.

  2. March 8, 2013 10:19 pm

    If you love something set it free. SEAWORLD SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Semper Fido permalink
    July 12, 2013 5:16 am

    Man, I had no idea.

  4. Deborah H.Zapusek permalink
    October 24, 2013 4:16 am

    Leave them alone in their own habitat.

  5. Fhjb permalink
    December 26, 2013 9:11 pm

    Ted Griffin SUCKS

  6. Jennifer permalink
    January 22, 2014 7:18 am

    I won’t go to SeaWorld at all anymore I can’t believe they do this how would you like to be caged up think about that the next time you by a ticket at sea world

  7. Cathy permalink
    March 19, 2014 2:27 pm

    I think if they made an attempt to return them back to their pods in the same area they captured them in, it would show the public they really do care about marine life and the public would view them differently. I will never go to this park until the whales are released.
    Other amusement parks can draw the public with rides and better entertainment. It’s time Sea World takes a better approch on what is entertaining and hurting animals is NOT

    • Pete permalink
      August 26, 2014 3:55 am

      The problem with that, Cathy, is that the vast majority of killer whales currently on display in aquariums were not captured from the wild, but were born and raised in aquariums. For example, of the 29 killer whales in SeaWorld Entertainment’s collection (including the ones on loan to Loro Parque in Tenerife, Canary Islands), 23 were captive-born. ( Of the 6 wild-caught ones, only 1 (Kasatka) was collected by and for SeaWorld. This represents the last time SeaWorld collected a killer whale from the wild, which occurred nearly 36 years ago (October 1978). Even the wild-caught ones have spent nearly their entire lives (30 to 45 years) in aquariums, having lived decades in the parks they currently inhabit and in the company of the whales they now live with, including several of their own offspring. The captive-born ones have no wild pod; their pod is the whales they have grown up with, and the groups they have integrated with. Where would they be released?

  8. Pete permalink
    August 26, 2014 3:01 am

    About 75% of this article’s content (some 16 paragraphs) is copied, verbatim and without attribution, from the book Operation Orca by Daniel Francis and Gil Hewlett (2007). More likely, I suppose, it was copy/pasted from this 2008 article at The Tyee, which presents excerpts from the book (with permission, I assume): I have taken the liberty of informing the book’s publisher, Harbour Publishing, as well as The Tyee’s editorial staff.

    • July 16, 2015 5:37 pm

      I have the right to use published information for educational purposes. No profit is made from this information

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