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Captive orca whale Namu arrives in Seattle on July 27, 1965.
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On July 27, 1965, the world's first captive orca whale arrives in Elliott Bay for display at the private Seattle Marine Aquarium on Pier 56. The massive whale had become entangled in fishing nets in Namu Bay, British Columbia, on June 25, and was later purchased by aquarium owner Ted Griffin and towed to Seattle in a floating pen.
Griffin, an avid diver who also owned a local heating oil company, paid $8,000 to the fishermen who had inadvertently ensnared the animal, and much more to tow it south to Elliott Bay. The 12-ton mammal initially attracted large crowds to Griffin's aquarium, where it consumed 400 pounds of salmon each day. It also drew protests and helped to launch a successful movement to protect whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals from capture and exploitation.
Namu died in his pen on July 9, 1966. The whale's skull and teeth were later given to Seattle's Burke Museum by the Tawanka group of the Camp Fire Girls, which received them from Lloyd's of London, Namu's insurance underwriters.
Although Griffin displayed other ceteacea, including a juvenile orca, they could not sustain his aquarium into the 1970s.
Emilie (Gamache) Leming, daughter of Ted Griffin's partner John (Mel) Gamache (1922-1999), remembers Namu very well:
"... my father, John (Mel) Gamache was Ted Griffin's partner in that venture. Ted owned 51 percent of the stock and my father the rest. My Dad had run his own company starting in the 1950s called Aquarium Maintenance, which was the first of its kind in the concept of setting up and maintaining aquariums in restaurants (the huge L-shaped salt water tank at the Wharf), in doctor's and dentist's offices, etc. Nowadays it's a very competitive industry.
"I worked in the ticket booth at the Seattle Aquarium when Namu was there. It was between my Junior and Senior years of high school at Holy Names Academy. I remember distinctly the night Namu died ... driving home to Bellevue, going around the "bump" in the floating bridge in my VW with such tears in my eyes I could hardly drive. It was like losing a family member!
My father worked very hard in those days to support a family of seven children of which I was the eldest. I remember going to Ted Griffin's home on the island ... years later he would become a shell of the man he had been ... regretting the capture and death of Namu ... I believe it haunts him to this day, as it does myself. My father passed away recently but I just wanted it noted for the record, one of his many contributions to the history of Seattle."
The city-owned Seattle Aquarium, which opened in 1977, has never displayed orca or other cetacea, which now enjoy federal and international protection.
Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage, A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995); Ronald M. Fisher, Namu: Making Friends with a Killer Whale (Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1973); Emilie (Gamache) Leming to HistoryLink.org, July 27, 2001; "Museum Plans to Exhibit Whale, Namu," The Seattle Times, October 26, 1967.
Note: This file was updated on June 12, 2007, and corrected on September 2, 2009.
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