In August 1970, TV cameras were on hand as seven orcas (killer whales) were captured off the coast of Seattle and taken to marine circuses like SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium. This video is from the Emmy Award-winning 1999 TV special Baby Wild Films Presents: The Killer Whale People, which includes footage of the deeply troubling Penn Cove orca roundup of August 1970, in which seven Southern Resident orcas were taken.
Video from the 1999 special “Baby Wild Films Presents: The Killer Whale People.”
People who saw the video on the news were appalled, and the outrage that followed led to the passing of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, banning the capture of marine mammals in U.S. waters. But SeaWorld continued to get “exemptions” for another four years until the company was caught in yet another scandal after they’d bought orcas who’d been driven into nets by having explosives dropped into the ocean all around them.
(And since SeaWorld and other circuses have agreements with marine entertainment facilities overseas, trading of wild-caught orcas and dolphins never stopped, including from the infamous Taiji massacres in Japan which continue to this day.)
One of the orcas captured in that roundup was Lolita, who has been held ever since in a small pool at the Miami Seaquarium. Today, 42 years later, she is still performing tricks for tourists, and her only orca companion is is a plastic blow-up orca doll. Every day, when she’s left alone, she calls out to the family from whom she was taken and who live off the coast of Seattle.
During the 1970 Penn Cove roundup, four orcas drowned in the nets, and diver John Crowe describes how he was in charge of secretly disposing of the dead orcas to avoid them being counted in the “take.”
The man organizing the hunt was Don Goldsberry, whom you can see in the video saying how much he “loves” the animals he captures. In a 2010 article “The Killer in the Pool” in Outside magazine, Tim Zimmerman writes about how Goldsberry and Ted Griffin had started capturing orcas five years earlier, which led to the birth of orca entertainment industry.
In October 1965, Goldsberry and Griffin trapped 15 killer whales in Carr Inlet, near Tacoma. One died during the hunt. Another – a 14-foot female that weighed 2,000 pounds – was captured and named Shamu. In December, a fast-growing marine park in San Diego, called SeaWorld, acquired Shamu and flew her to California. Goldsberry says he and Griffin were paid $70,000. It was the start of a billion-dollar franchise.
Over the next decade, around 300 killer whales were netted off the Pacific Northwest coast, and 51 were sold to marine parks across the globe, in Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere. Goldsberry, who became SeaWorld’s lead “collector” until he retired in the late 1980s, caught 252 of them, sold 29, and inadvertently killed nine with his nets.
In August 1970, concerned about backlash, Goldsberry weighted some dead orcas down with anchors and dumped them in deep water. When they were dragged up on a Whidbey Island beach by a trawling fisherman, the public started to understand the sometimes-brutal reality of the “orca gold rush.”
Goldsberry went on to capture two-year-old orca Tilikum from waters off the coast of Iceland in 1983. Tilikum killed three people while in captivity, the last of whom was his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010. Goldsberry died in 2014. Tilikum died in 2017.