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Orca capturer will always be linked to orca Namu

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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He became famous for pursuing, capturing and exhibiting live killer whales. His name was Ted Griffin, and he will forever be linked to an orca named Namu. It was 50 years ago when the two first met.

A 4-ton killer whale on June 25, 1965, became entangled in a salmon net offshore near Namu Bay, British Columbia. Griffin bought the orca for $8,000, and so the legend began.

Named after the location where he was trapped, Namu would star in the aquarium Griffin owned at Seattle's Pier 56. First, however, they had to get the massive 22-foot mammal to the Seattle waterfront.

They put him in a floating pen, and set out to tow the contraption and its imprisoned prey on a 400-mile journey. It took 19 days, and by the time they arrived in Seattle on July 27, Namu and Ted Griffin had become household words.

Griffin had his star attraction, and thousands lined up at his aquarium for a close-up view of the captured orca with a fearsome reputation as a killer whale. It was a misnomer; these "killer whales" seen in Puget Sound were actually large dolphins and were no threat to humans.

But here was a chance to see a killer whale in action. And it was made even more exciting because Griffin became Namu's trainer and companion. A skilled diver, he would enter the pen and swim with Namu, thrilling onlookers by feeding and petting the huge captive orca.

A photograph of that day shows Griffin in snorkel gear in the pen alongside an open-mouthed Namu feeding him a large salmon. A report says Namu ate an astonishing 400 pounds of salmon each day.

Namu was a male, and soon Griffin set out to capture a female orca. At first he was unsuccessful. In one effort during the 1965 Christmas season, Griffin aboard the Gig Harbor purse seiner Chinook spent two days chasing a pod of four killer whales, eventually giving up the chase in Hood Canal.

But finally a capture was made. She was named Shamu, and she didn't stay long in Seattle. Griffin sold her to Sea World in San Diego where she went on to become probably the most famous orca in captivity.

Meantime, an undercurrent of public dismay was becoming evident. Protests were taking place outside the Pier 56 aquarium, Then, on July 9, 1966, Namu died in his pen. He had survived nearly a year in captivity, succumbing to bacteria-borne toxins that attacked his nervous system.

Capturing and selling Puget Sound orcas now became almost a full-time business. From 1965 until 1972, Griffin captured at least 30 orcas, selling them for $20,000 to $25,000. Once, in 1970, he netted almost all members of three Puget Sound pods. When four of the whales died, angry public reaction reached a crescendo.

New laws and regulations followed, and Griffin was out of business. In his 1982 book, "Namu, Quest for the Killer Whale," he wrote of his love for his captured orca. In a 1997 interview, he expressed no regrets and made no apologies for his orca-hunting career.

He was asked if he still thought about Namu. "I do. Every day," he told the Seattle Times' Erick Lacitis. "It was a time I just wish would have been able to go on forever."

John Komen, who lives on Mason Lake, was for 40 years a reporter and editor, Seattle television news anchorman and executive, national TV network news correspondent, producer, columnist, editorial writer and commentator. His column, Komen Comment, appears each week in the Mason County Journal.

Copyright 2016 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: January 7, 2016

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