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The History of Shamu

Updated on February 25, 2015

Each year thousands of people flock to one of Sea World's three locations to see the ever popular Shamu show. They love the experience of sitting in the wet zone during the magical show in hopes that Shamu will not only help them beat the heat, but entertain them beyond their wildest imaginations. The show displays killer whales doing jumps, tricks, and choreography with their trainers.

The name Shamu has not only become a household name but an icon in pop culture. In fact, over twenty movies and television shows have made some reference to the famous killer whale. Some of these include Saved by the Bell, White Chicks, Family Guy, Scrubs, and Frasier. However, many people don't realize that Shamu is actually a stage name and the show itself had a rocky start.

The first killer whale to be brought into captivity belonged to Marineland of the Pacific in Northern California in 1961. Unfortunately, the killer whale died within twenty-four hours due to injuries sustained for repeated collisions to the tank walls.

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The next killer whale brought into captivity was in 1964. Moby Doll was brutally captured and dragged back to the Vancouver Aquarium by harpoon after he didn't die from being shot. Despite brutal treatment, Moby Doll was still docile thus changing many people's views on killer whales. Originally he was supposed to be a dead model for a sculptor named Samuel Burich.

Killer whales being used for entertainment purposes began in 1965. After two failed attempts of keeping a killer whale alive in captivity, Ted Griffin decided to try where others had failed. In 1965, a killer whale was accidentally captured when he got caught up in fishing nets off the shores of Namu, British Columbia. Ted Griffin, owner of the Seattle Public Aquarium, bought the killer whale for $8000 in hopes of befriending it. The killer whale was named Namu, after the town its captures were from.

Ted Griffin befriended Namu and began to swim with the killer whale. He then saw the potential for profit as he partnered with D. Goldsberry, owner of Sea World at the time, to capture more killer whales. Before Namu's death eleven months later, Shamu was introduced to him. Although Shamu means friend of Namu, it was anything but friendly. Neither killer whale liked each other. A month after introductions, D. Goldsberry brought Shamu to Sea World, San Diego after paying $100,000 for her.

Shamu was trained to do a variety of tricks. After a well-choreographed show, a star was born. Shamu was joined by other killer whales and an array of trainers to make the show an even bigger success. However, the capture of other killer whales was steeped in controversy and lawsuits. D. Goldsberry and his crew were accused of using explosives to herd and capture the whales.

Another controversy was from 1965-1977, D. Goldsberry and his crew went on nineteen capture expeditions, capturing 262 killer whales. From those captured, they only kept fifty juveniles think they would be easier to train. Out of those fifty, eleven killer whales died. Many of them died in transport due to drowning in the nets. Even more died out of the 262 killer whales captured. In fact, the capture of Shamu wasn't a pleasant one. Ted Griffin admits to a local San Diego new station that he harpooned and killed Shamu's mother. Both Griffin and Goldsberry openly admit to killing many killer whales to capture the juveniles.

Shamu continued to entertain families by the thousands each year. In 1971, Shamu was retired after an incident with an employee. Annette Eckis was caught on tape attacking Shamu. Later that year, Shamu died of a blood infection and an infection in her uterus from spending years in captivity.

Today the names "Shamu", "Namu", and even "Ramu" are considered stage names and are registered trademarks of Sea World. All killer whales that have performed at Sea World have used one of these names. Behind the scenes they do have their own individual names to go by but while they are in the spotlight of thousands of adoring fans, they go by one of these three names. In fact, there has been 51 Shamus over the course of time.

1985 was an exciting year for fans of Shamu and Sea World as well. On September 26, the first surviving killer whale born in captivity was born. Her name is Kalina. Although ten other births occurred before this, many were still-born or died within a couple of months. Kalina was born to Katina and Winston who bared the famous show names of Namu (Katina) and Ramu (Winston). Kalina was given the name Baby Shamu.

It didn't stop at Baby Shamu. On February 2, 1993, Kalina had a calf of her own named, Keet. Keet was known as Grandbaby Shamu. However, the excitement continued at Sea World when Keet fathered his own calf, Kalia. Kalia was born December 21, 2004. Keet fathered his second calf with another killer whale born in captivity named Kayla. Hayln was born October 9, 2005 and given the name Great Grandbaby Shamu. She was an amazing first for whales in captivity. She was the first calf to be born to parents that were also born in captivity. Hayln lived for almost three years.

Many orcas have performed in the Shamu Shows over the years. The Shamu stadium seats 5,500 people and each show typically lasts twenty minutes. Generally there are up to seven shows each day. The first fourteen rows have signs warning people that they will get wet. According to Sea World, the temperature of the water is kept at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. That is an equivalent to 13 degrees Celsius. Each show demonstrates the talent of killer whales through natural behaviors and learned tricks in a 7-million gallon tank. The bond between the trainers and these killer whales are also demonstrated as they perform together.

The Shamu Show changes its theme and choreography from time to time. Each of the shows was performed at all four Sea World parks until Sea World Ohio closed in 2001. Other Sea World parks include Sea World San Diego, Sea World Orlando, and Sea World San Antonio. Below you can see the timeline for the changes in these themes at these parks over the years.

Timeline of Shamu Shows

  • 1966-1971 Doctor Do Little
  • 1971-1974 Shamu Goes Hollywood
  • 1974-1975 Shamu for Mayor
  • 1975-1977 Shamu the Yankee Doodle Whale
  • 1977-1980 Shamu Goes to College
  • 1980-1982 This is Shamu
  • 1982-1984 Shamu, Take a Bow
  • 1984-1986 Shamu Celebration
  • 1987 Shamu's Water Symphony
  • 1988-1990 Shamu 25th Anniversary
  • 1989-1991 Baby Shamu Celebration
  • 1992-1995 Shamu New Visions
  • 1995-1998 Shamu: World Focus
  • 1998-2004 Shamu New Vision played at Sea World San Antonio
  • 1998-2006 The Shamu Adventure
  • 2005-2006 The Shamu Experience
  • 2006-2011 Believe
  • 2011 - Present One Ocean

Although keeping killer whales is still steeped in controversy, Sea World maintains that there have been many improvements to the care of killer whales under Sea World's current owners. According to Brad Andrews, Vice President of Zoological Operations with Busch Entertainment, the living areas have improved as well as the medical care for the killer whales. They even have better husbandry techniques to aid in successful conceptions and births.

Despite improved environments, controversy still looms. Many animal rights organization still protest these killer whales captivity, calling it cruel and inhumane. These groups still maintain that these killer whales in captivity are strictly for profit and not for educational purposes which is against the Marine Mammal Act. Each year the Shamu Shows continues to be a multi-billion dollar industry.

If you would like to see the Shamu Show up close and personal, you can visit the Sea World website to start planning your next vacation at a Sea World closest to you.

© 2015 Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan

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    • NonCopyBook profile image

      Nicholas Daly 2 years ago from NSW Australia

      You've probably seen "Blackfish"- the recent documentary about Tilikum? Right at the top of the best docos of the last year or two... and very revealing (as is this summary about Shamu & others- information worth sharing..)

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