The Power Of Art: Who Is Shamu?

One of the themes of Blackfish is that orcas are highly intelligent, self-aware, social beings. In short, they are individuals.

However, SeaWorld’s marketing and presentation of killer whales–through its promotion of every whale as a single whale, Shamu–works to erase the idea that each killer whale in SeaWorld’s “collection” is a distinctive, unique, killer whale, with its own individual experience and history, and its own identity.

That doesn’t sit well with Lee Harrison and James Wolf, and they have created this powerful and moving graphic to drive home the fact that there is no Shamu, that instead there are multiple killer whales with multiple fates.

Here is how Harrison (you can see more of his work here) explains the project:

“This idea came to me when I recalled some of the orcas that have died and have been forgotten based on SeaWorld’s ‘sweeping it under the rug’ ways.

I wanted to create awareness by drawing attention to some of the more shocking and upsetting stories we know of in a simple way to get people more interested to discover more.

The simple and pleasing visuals seem to draw people in, while the stories shock them and they tend to ask more.”

And here is what he and Wolf (who in encyclopedic when it comes to SeaWorld’s killer whales and their histories) produced (click image for a version you can enlarge):



For more a more detailed presentation of this art, and the life histories of the killer whales featured, go to OrcaAware.

23 thoughts on “The Power Of Art: Who Is Shamu?”

  1. This is one of the most powerful things I have seen regarding the captivity debate, which is not a debate for me at all. Thank you, I am sharing like crazy.

    1. Me too, Lara!
      A dissenting public overrides Corporate interests any day. “Raise quiet hell” is what works.
      Circulate petitions via internet, Tim. Send them to Senate and House.
      Next label, Animal Cruelty …. There is no judgment greater to sway Corporate greed, than public opinion of the politicians’ children and grandchildren.
      Ask them, “Is this the Legacy you want the history books to write about you? Daddy, will you help pass a law to allow the dolphins and Orcas to be set free?”
      Go to the heart of a resolution.
      Webcams vs. cruel confinement?
      This is a “no-duh’ moment.

      Imprisoned Orcas everywhere thank you !

  2. The Orca in my icon pic is Kotar, one of the four Orcas Sea World had in their public petting pool back in 1980 and one of the ones in the above artwork. The other three were Katina, Kasatka, and Canuck II. I got to know them very well over the years time they were in the public display where they interacted with thousands of visitors and NO ONE was ever hurt. All four were friendly and playful towards people who knew how to properly interact with them which is *not* by teasing them with fish trying to touch them. I did not learn what had happened to him until decades later in 2010 from someone I happened to meet who tracks all the captive Cetaceans.

    Apparently Kotar grew to hate captivity so much that at one point he leaped out of the tank in Shamu stadium and into the seats in an attempt to get away. Sea World had to block off and flood the stadium in order to float him back in to the tank. Not an easy feat as this would have taken hours to do. Imagine his suffering lying there on those benches.

    He did this TWICE in his desire to escape captivity. Attempted suicide perhaps ?

    Finally in 1995 he got his wish to escape captivity when his skull was ‘accidentally’ crushed in a gate ‘malfunction’. This type of ‘accident’ seems unlikely considering how closely they are monitor when they are moved between tanks. More likely he bashed his head against the side of the tank as other Cetaceans have done in the past and that is just a cover story.

    Now after over three decades of operant behavior training, food and social deprivation, the two of the four who are still alive, Kasatka and Katina are now considered ‘problem animals’ by Sea World.

    This is the result of three decades of “quality care of captive animals” by Sea World?

    Untrained people interacting with untrained Orcas and no one ever got hurt. EVER.

    Three decades later

    Highly trained Orcas interacting with trainers who are “specially trained for interacting with Orcas” and two have been killed and several seriously injured.

    Something is seriously wrong with this scenario.

    I have worked on three different interspecies communications projects and have had thousands of hours interacting hands on with dozens of dolphins and the above four Orcas. I can say cetaceans are highly intelligent and do understand the concept of language. I even wanted to be a trainer back then so I could work with them but having the privilege of getting to know them the way I did changed my mind.

    Captivity is toxic to cetaceans and it needs to end. They are much to intelligent to be treated this way. Tilikum is not the only sad story to come out of Sea World.

    1. We’ll said, I can’t help but feel sad and tearful for ALL of the pain, misery, horror and mistreatment these intelligent mammals receive and feel!

    2. when Orky and Corky were at Marineland in Palos Verdes CA I had a annual pass (I lived in San Pedro). I went to see them a couple of times a week. The tank was so small. Orky held a trainer on the bottom of the tank for “several minutes”. Corky eventually shoved him aside and divers pulled the trainer up and did CPR. She was hospitalized, but recovered and was back at work. When I talked to her I asked if she thought Orky was trying to kill her. She said she believed it was a show of dominance of his space. She said sometime they swan with the whales using scuba and so she didn’t think the whales were aware of human’s need for breath ever few minutes. She said “If he had wanted me dead I would be dead. She eventually left the job. I so love orcas, and I used to love seeing them perform. Now I want them all to live in the ocean where they belong. Even if it meands I only can see videos of them. The ones who are captive are ruined and cannot be released. We can’t even make a sanctuary for them like we do for elephants. Not much makes me cry — but this really does.

  3. While reading this, I have to say, tears were forming in my eyes!! This is powerful and shows the truth that Slimeworld keeps from people. Those of us who are Orca fanatics, have not forgotten about you all. Each one of these orcas as well as the ones still living are each it’s own with their own look, personality and spirit💜🐳

  4. Wow, what a emotionally picture! Even though it did not show all Orcas that have died at SeaWorld (that would be way too much), it opens a little window to the animals that SeaWorld wants to hide behind the stage name “Shamu”.

  5. It is also worth point out that the problem of broken and fractured teeth Orcas have today from what Sea World calls “jaw popping” which, IMHO is similar to what horses do on fences called ‘cribbing”, did not exist back then because all the gates were made from PVC plastic pipe back then and not the metal they are today. Plastic pipe gave out before their teeth. I guess Sea World got tired of continually replacing them and switched to metal instead of addressing the root cause as they should have.

    1. Exactly if you have a horse that is chewing the stall you need to give the horse more stimulation, not make a steel stall door. Same thing here.

  6. Thank you so much for giving the forgotten orca’s a voice!!! People wake up…and never ever buy a ticket for animals in captivity

  7. I have always loved Orcas. It was so different seeing them in THEIR habitat and I will never forget the experience. It was more of a treasure seeing them come up out of the water than doing the manufactured jumps from a park. My daughter who will ever be smarter than I refused to go on the dolphin encounters and refuses to support seaworld. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

    1. Out of the mouths of babes….. We are listening to sensitive children. I pray they never apologize for being sensitive , m keesling. I love parents like you 🙂
      Thanks for being a light in her world!

  8. Years ago, I worked at the now-defunct Seven Seas amusement park in Arlington, TX. At the time, I wondered how the orcas there handled being in the tanks set up for their living arrangements. Little did I know what the reality was for them, as well as the dolphins, nor what their ultimate fate was or could be.

    Knowing what I know now, I cannot endorse the capture of these creatures for the simple entertainment of the masses. It is a crime that humanity does this.

  9. Kalina is Shamu’s Baby and she was born on 1985 but Shamu die on 1971
    How is that posible?

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