To understand how orcas, also known as killer whales, moved from being feared sea creatures to celebrated marine-park performers, it helps to look back at the history of orca capture, which began in the Pacific Northwest.
It all started in 1964, when the Vancouver Aquarium commissioned a sculptor to kill an orca to use as a model for a life-size statue.
At the time, most people had never heard of a killer whale, but they did have a reputation among fishermen for stealing fish. There also were stories of orcas attacking seals, porpoises and even other whales.
Shooting an orca was generally viewed among fishermen as an acceptable response in an open-water encounter.
The Vancouver Aquarium's plan took an abrupt turn when its director decided instead to save the whale the sculptor had just harpooned. The whale was named Moby Doll, although it proved to be a male, and taken back to Vancouver. He captivated the public and became international news, though he lived only 87 days in captivity.
And thus an interest in orca captivity was born.
Ted Griffin, owner of the Seattle Marine Aquarium (not affiliated with today's Seattle Aquarium), became obsessed with the idea of exhibiting an orca after hearing of Moby Doll. By chance, a fisherman accidentally netted a whale in 1965, and Griffin was able to buy it for $8,000. Griffin would swim for hours with his whale, named Namu, and even allowed members of the public to swim in the sea pen on the Seattle waterfront.
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