Born: 1965 (estimated)
Caught: 1968, Puget Sound, Washington
Died: 1980; cerebral aneurysm
Hugo was eating 100 pounds of fish a day, and the bigger he got, the smaller his little whale bowl seemed.” ~ Ric O’Barry, “Behind the Dolphin Smile”
In February, 1968 a young male orca, later named Hugo was caught in Vaughn Bay, near Puget Sound, Washington. A female whale was caught alongside him, and shipped to the New York Aquarium in Coney Island where she died a mere seven months later from a respiratory infection.
Hugo, also destined for the east coast, was flown to the Miami Seaquarium, in Miami Florida. Here, he was held in a tiny pool, now utilized for manatee displays. Although plans were made for the construction of a larger tank, he remained in this enclosure for two, full years – an unforgivable period of time which must have felt entirely claustrophobic and alien to this mammal who had only ever known a life of freedom in the sea.
When I fed Hugo, his tail would be lying on the bottom and his head would be completely out of the water. It was pathetic. They wanted me to train him. I refused and left in disgust.” ~ Ric O’Barry, “Behind the Dolphin Smile”
In August, 1970 in Penn Cove, Whidbey Island, Washington, a particularly violent capture of orcas took place, where five whales drowned, including four babies. Lolita (first called Tokitae) was caught during this capture, and shipped to the Seaquarium, displayed in the newly-constructed “Whale Bowl.” Hugo was eventually moved into the tank alongside Lolita, where they performed their daily routines.
For 10 years, the two orcas shared the Seaquarium’s spotlight. Despite mating, no offspring was produced. But unlike Seaquarium’s glossy promotion of the happy duo, it was clear Hugo hadn’t adjusted well to life in captivity. It was commonly reported that Hugo would regularly and intentionally bash his head against the walls of the tank, specifically, against the viewing windows. Once, he broke a nine-inch hole in the plastic, nearly severing the tip of his rostrum. This flap of skin later had to be surgically re-attached. With his dorsal fin flopped over and a significant injury to the sensitive skin of his rostrum, it would have been a hard sell to claim Hugo was adapting well to his confines at the Seaquarium.
On March 4, 1980, after 12 years of performances and repeated brutal, self-inflicted damage to his head, Hugo died of a brain aneurysm. After his death, no plaque or memorial of any kind was erected. Instead, any and all references to Hugo ended when a crane dumped his remains into the Miami-Dade landfill.
Hugo,” I said with a grin, “you’re nothing but a big, wonderful dolphin!” ~ Ric O’Barry, “Behind the Dolphin Smile”
A dolphin doesn’t belong in landfill.
Photos courtesy of the Miami Sequarium