Whale of a show

A deadly Northwest serial killer whale won't be in it, but the show will go on again a year after trainer's death.

A deadly Northwest serial killer whale won't be in it, but the show will go on again a year after trainer's death.

Killer whales are, well, killers. Certainly to salmon, and at least some in captivity to humans. A few occasionally turn their trainers into a chew toy, which makes the name of this act at SeaWorld morbidly amusing: "Dine with Shamu."

Of course, the whales don't eat trainers and other unfortunates, but they have bitten them and caused their deaths by drowning, crushing or hypothermia. The "Dine with Shamu" show was suspended at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., in 2010 when an orca named Tilikum killed senior trainer Dawn Brancheau shortly after a performance while some audience members looked on. Tilikum has been kept in isolation since. It was the third human death with which he was connected, making him a possible serial killer whale.

And you thought Broadway's Spider-man was a dangerous show.

SeaWorld has announced they will be resuming "Dine with Shamu" this February at their San Antonio park, a year after the tragedy, and in Orlando and San Diego sometime this spring. They also have a show called "Shamu Rocks" where orcas perform in front of a live rock band.

The name is a little misleading, at least for those who remember the original Shamu. She was the fourth killer whale caught alive and became a star at SeaWorld in San Diego. The former Puget Sound resident died in 1971 and there have been a number of subsequent Shamus. The name now seems to have become generic for "performing orca," at least in SeaWorld-speak.

Shamu comes from She+ Namu, meaning the female Namu. Namu was the most famous of early captive killer whales and Shamu was supposed to be Namu's female partner, but they didn't hit it off. Such human-arranged animal matings often don't work out: the Woodland Park Zoo's famed male gorilla Bobo never got along with Fifi.

In any event, "Dine with Shamu" is back, but unpredictable killer whale Tilikum will not be part of the show. He's busy, however, in captivity. Tilikum, a former Icelandic orca who once lived in Victoria, B.C., is something of a killer whale stud providing sperm for artificial insemination. He has sired more than a dozen orca calves in captivity, including at least two last year. Whatever Tilikum's issues are, let's hope he's not a "bad seed."


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.