We’ve all heard of Shamu—the iconic orca in SeaWorld’s shows. We know that she performed in the park’s acts—but most of us don’t know much else about her.

Shamu didn’t always live in a tiny chlorinated tank in San Diego. Until she was 3 years old, she actually lived in the ocean with her mom. Then she was captured in 1965.

Here’s how that went down: Whalers harpooned and killed her mother right in front of her. Shamu refused to leave her dead mom’s side, but that didn’t matter to the killers. The young whale was dragged away from her home—never to return.

Then she was sold to SeaWorld San Diego, where she was deprived of food in order to make her do tricks as part of her training to become the park’s first performing orca.

She was used in shows until an incident in 1971 in which Annette Eckis, a secretary who worked at the park, was instructed to ride on her back for a televised publicity stunt. When Eckis fell off Shamu’s back, the orca roughed her up in the water, clamping her teeth down on the woman’s leg and refusing to let go.

Eckis—who needed more than 100 stitches—sued, and Shamu was retired from shows.

After spending the previous six years of her life in a tank, Shamu died that year from pyometra (a uterine infection) and septicemia (blood poisoning).

In the wild, she could’ve lived to be older than 100. But at SeaWorld, she lived to be only 9 years old.

Even though Shamu died tragically at a young age (but not before putting someone’s life in grave danger), SeaWorld continued to use explosives to separate orca pods in the wild, pay orca hunters to kill mothers and abduct their babies, withhold food from animals in order to force them to learn tricks, and cover up their deaths.

But there wasn’t just one Shamu—there were many. Lots of orcas died young in SeaWorld’s concrete tanks, which is why the park kept calling different surviving ones “Shamu” until they, too, died young.

More Parks, More Shamus

The company trademarked the name “Shamu,” and it became a stage name that was given to any captive orca used by the park in shows.

When SeaWorld opened more parks—in Cleveland, San Antonio, and Orlando, Florida—each got their own “Shamu” as a marketing tactic to sell tickets and merchandise.

Baby Shamu

“Baby Shamu” was introduced at the Orlando park in 1985. Her actual name was Kalina, and she was the first orca to survive after being born in captivity. Some sources say that 10 captive-bred babies were born at SeaWorld before her, all of whom were either stillborn or died within the first two months of life.

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For #anticapphotoaday challenge Day 2 – Captivity Photo of the now deceased Kalina by ©Orcalover via OrcaHome Info from The Orca Project and Orca Aware Dubbed the “Original Baby Shamu”, Kalina was the first Killer Whale born and raised in captivity at SeaWorld Parks. Born in 1985 at SeaWorld Orlando, her mother was Katina, an Icelandic orca and her father was Winston (died 1986, at 15 years old), a Southern resident orca. At four years of age, she was taken from her mother to be exhibited at the other facilities. She was sent alone to SeaWorld Ohio in 1990. Within ten months, she was seized and moved again to SeaWorld San Diego. Eight months later, shipped to SeaWorld San Antonio. Her lack of stability at such a young age meant that Kalina had no time to build strong bonds with other orca and no mother to support and teach her. Kalina fell pregnant at the age of six at SeaWorld San Antonio. Her son, Keet was born when she was only seven and a half years old; an extremely young age for an orca to have a calf. Kalina was moved back to SeaWorld Orlando in 1994 to give birth to her second son, Keto, when she was only nine years old. At SeaWorld Orlando, Kalina would give birth to a stillbirth, another male named Tuar and a female called Skyla. Kalina died on October 4 2010 at SeaWorld Orlando at the age of 25. She died of Bacterial Septicemia, a systemic inflammatory response to a severe infection, in other words, blood poisoning. The causes of Septicemia include: wound infection, surgical infection, tooth abscess, gall bladder infection, appendicitis and burns. Kalina didn’t die of a gall bladder infection, appendicitis, or burns. If she died of a blood infection, which leaves only two causes: 1) a partial miscarriage, missed miscarriage or 2) a tooth abscess as the cause of death. Infections of the mouth or teeth, when untreated by antibiotics, cause septicemia. Kalina has had a history of poor oral health, many fractured teeth as well as those that were manually drilled. The blood infection was treatable and her death preventable. However, she has been treated with antibiotics so often over her lifetime that it was rendered ineffective. RIP Kalina

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When Kalina was just 4 years old, the company took her away from her mother and sent her to SeaWorld Ohio. Ten months later, they moved her to San Diego, and she was sent to San Antonio eight months after that. If she’d been free, she likely would have stayed with her mother for life.

Kalina was impregnated at just 6 years old. In nature, she probably wouldn’t have conceived until she turned 15. She produced another Baby Shamu for SeaWorld and was soon impregnated again. In all, she had four calves: one who was stillborn and three who were taken away from her and shipped to other parks. She died in 2010 of septicemia at just 25 years old.


Another “Shamu” (whose actual name was Tilikum) was kidnapped from his home waters off Iceland—abducted from his pod at just 2 years old.

He was kept in small tanks with other suffering, frustrated, captive orcas—and the fights between them often left him injured and bloody.

Steve Huxter / The Voice Of The Orcas
When Tilikum did not perform a trick correctly, food was withheld from both him and his tankmates, which caused a great deal of tension, and as a result, Haida and Nootka would bite Tilikum and rake the entire length of his body with their teeth.

After he was sold to SeaWorld, trainers withheld food from him in order to make him perform tricks, including rolling over so that employees could sexually stimulate him and collect his semen in a container. Yes, really. The company used him as its chief sperm-producing machine in order to inseminate female orcas so that they’d churn out more captive performers.

Tilikum was bred 21 times, and 11 of his children died before he did. The constant stress and deprivation of captivity drove him to kill three humans, including trainer Dawn Brancheau. As is typical of animals at SeaWorld, he deteriorated both mentally and physically. Shortly after the release of Blackfish, he died in captivity at the age of 35.

Shamu (Tilikum) | Milan Boers | CC BY 2.0 

All the “Shamus” are now dead, and SeaWorld doesn’t use the name anymore, in an attempt to avoid more criticism—but the suffering continues for the orcas who still languish in the park’s tanks to this very day. Talk about a sham.

Speak up for the hundreds of animals forced to call this unnatural abusement park “home.”