(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.