Meet Bubbles: The 1st Whale Ever Captured for Entertainment

(c) 1957 Life Magazine

(c) 1957 Life Magazine

On this day in 1957 a small fishing vessel returned victorious to the Palos Verdes Peninsula in California.  After months of effort, her crew, a rugged bunch of media-described “sea cowboys” had just done something nobody had ever done before: they brought back a live whale to be put on public display.

The young female pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), named Bubbles by the crew, would become the main attraction at Marineland of the Pacific, at the time, the world’s largest oceanarium.  Bubbles would also launch a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry based on performing marine mammals that continues to this day.

marinelandBubbles was immensely popular. Her capture was such an extraordinary feat, it was covered by every major news outlet in the US and Canada. Later, her performances drew eager crowds and her first anniversary in captivity was occasioned by a full-page photo spreads in several magazines. She even made a cameo appearance on television’s Sea Hunt, with Lloyd Bridges.

As well, her capture made her captors famous.  Veteran sea animal collectors Captain Frank Brocato, Frank (Boots) Calandrino, and Bene (Benny) Falcone were quickly inundated with offers and requests for films, interviews, documentaries, and television appearances. And of course, there were requests for whales. Now, it seemed, everyone wanted one. And so it was that a worldwide open-season on the collection of whales for entertainment was launched.

I’m currently working on a pitch to write a full-length feature about Bubbles, the sad story of her capture, and the performing marine mammal industry that grew up around her. But I thought it would be nice, on the anniversary of her capture, to introduce you to her proper.

So ladies and gentlemen, meet Bubbles, the first whale ever taken from the open ocean expressly for the purpose of entertaining us —

 

I assure you, Bubbles’ first year did not go as nicely as that clip would have you believe, but hey, that’s entertainment, right?

Finally, if you have any ideas for where to pitch this story, I’m all ears.

Comments (3)

Bill SwanFebruary 27th, 2013 at 6:41 pm

It is a sad story, and when you think of the intelligence of these animals that allows training them for minor tricks, it becomes even sadder. If you have access to photos, I would suggest a kids book proposal on this story. The only one I could find was one from 1963, and it likely (just looking at the cover) was a prettied up version of it.
What happened to Bubbles, by the way? When do we get the rest of the blog?

The story by now is dated, but the fact that she was the first likely makes the story.

Love that newsreel grit: real journalism in action.

Sam HardmanMarch 4th, 2013 at 6:17 pm

It’s so sad to see such amazing and intelligent animals exploited just for our entertainment. I would also like to know what happened to Bubbles, does the oceanarium still exist?

KimMarch 4th, 2013 at 9:05 pm

As I mentioned, I am going to write the full account of Bubbles and the marine mammal industry of that time (and maybe to the present). I’ve done lots of research and the one piece of information that has been surprisingly hard to get is exactly what you both have asked for: What happened to Bubbles?

As near as I can tell (and I have nothing concrete to substantiate this) is that she died at Marineland of the Pacific between 6 and 10 years after her capture. It also appears that after her death, her tankmate, Bimbo, was set free.

I’m cautious about stating those things as fact because famous animals like Bubbles are frequently replaced by animals of the same name. In fact, there is still a Bubbles at SeaWorld today — possibly Bubbles the 3rd.

In answer to your question Sam, Marineland of the Pacific was purchased by the owners of SeaWorld San Diego in 1987 and was subsequently closed.

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