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Friday, September 4, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Namu Was First Killer Whale Put On Public Display -- It Called Seattle Marine Aquarium Home Until Its Death In 1966 Shocked The City

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Oregon's Keiko is in the spotlight now, but more than a decade before the "Free Willy" star was born, Seattle's Namu first brought public attention to the wonders - and controversy - of putting a captive killer whale on display.

In 1965, Canadian commercial fishermen contacted the Seattle Marine Aquarium with an offer: They had accidentally trapped a killer whale in their nets and would sell it for $8,000.

Aquarium Director Ted Griffin accepted the offer and named the whale Namu, meaning "many winds."

Its 400-mile journey to Seattle in a floating pen was front-page news. Crowds flocked to Pier 56 to watch Griffin ride the whale and to see Namu jump on command.

But controversy quickly erupted. Word that Griffin intended to capture more whales prompted concern that he would be breaking up whale families. Some activists threatened to cut Namu's pen to free him.

When two female whales died during Griffin's efforts to catch a mate for Namu, the incidents strengthened opposition to whale capture.

A city still sorting out its feelings on the issue was shocked by the news in July 1966 that Namu had drowned, entangled in the netting of its pen. An autopsy showed an infection likely contributed to the whale's disorientation and demise.

Though Namu, like Keiko, also starred in a movie, "Namu, the Killer Whale" did not get the attention "Free Willy" did, nor did it trigger a campaign to send its star back into the wild. The film premiered in Seattle three weeks after Namu's death.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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