Tilikum is the orca made infamous when he killed a SeaWorld trainer back in February. Shortly after the death, it was revealed that Tilikum had been at the center of two other fatal "accidents" while at Sealand in Victoria, B.C. Now, Tim Zimmerman of Outside magazine has written a profile of Tilikum in which he also asks the philosophical question, "Can a whale choose to kill?" and traces the "orca entertainment industry" back to its roots in Seattle.
But Ted Griffin helped change all that. A young impresario who owned the Seattle Marine Aquarium, Griffin had long been obsessed with the idea of swimming with a killer whale. In June 1965, he got word of a 22-footer tangled in a fisherman's nets off Namu, British Columbia. Griffin bought the 8,000-pound animal for $8,000. He towed the orca, which he named Namu, 450 miles back to Seattle in a custom-made floating pen. Namu's family pod--20 to 25 orcas--followed most of the way. Griffin was surprised by how gentle and intelligent Namu was. Before long he was riding on the orca's back, and by September tens of thousands of people had come to see the spectacle of the man and his orca buddy. The story of their "friendship" was eventually chronicled in the pages of National Geographic and in the 1966 movie Namu, the Killer Whale. The orca entertainment industry was born.