Could Miami Seaquarium Orca Lolita Be Days Away From Freedom?

Categories: Animal Planet

lolita-seaquarium.jpg
Piotr Domaradzki via Wikimedia Commons
The Miami Seaquarium's orca, Lolita, who has been crammed inside what is the smallest whale tank in North American for the past 40 years, is the closest she's ever been to being set free and reunited with her family. Back in January, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it was seeking public comment as to whether the orca should be included in the Endangered Species Act listing of Southern Resident killer whales.

Southern Resident killer whales were classified as endangered in 2005, and since Lolita, who is 50 years old, falls into that category, that would mean she would have to be set free and put back in Puget Sound with the rest of her family, which includes her 85-year-old mother.

All public comments are to be received prior to this Friday, March 28.

See also: SeaWorld Refuses to Admit Blackfish Had Impact on Attendance Dip

Loilta was captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, when she was taken from the Puget Sound L-pod to the Miami Seaquarium to perform tricks for food.

The Puget Sound L-pod, which is Lolita's family, has all been under protection since '05. Lolita, meanwhile, remains not only the last surviving whale from that pod in captivity but is also cramped in a very small tank living a solitary life. The tank she lives in is just 35 feet wide and 80 feet across, which is below standards of keeping captive killer whales in tanks that are at least 48 feet all the way around.

Lolita's onetime orca companion, Hugo, died of a brain aneurysm in 1980 after he smashed his head against the tank.

Lolita has been kept in good health, in spite of this. She's fed regularly, and the team at the Miami Seaquarium has been diligent in making sure she's healthy and active. Still, the smallness of the tank and the fact that she has little to no shade make for poor conditions, animal activists have said.

Some would question removing Lolita from her current environment after all these years. But Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, told Take Part that the orca remains relatively healthy enough that moving her wouldn't present a risk to the animal.

Moreover, in 1995, Lolita was allowed to listen to a recording of L-pod calls that a television crew had brought in. Lolita reportedly responded quickly and seemed interested in the recordings. She even called back at the recorder. Miami Seaquarium officials forced the television crew to leave.

See also: Blackfish Filmmakers Challenge SeaWorld to Debate


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52 comments
AnaCampos
AnaCampos

Since all of you are not Marine Mammal Scientists or Experts, I'll refer you to watch this new interview about Lolita and her fate which aired last night. It is by far one of the most well done, educational and heart touching, 6 minutes you'll see on the subject. There should be a Mother and Daughter reunion. This animal is not a surfboard.


I don't see how anyone can think it is OK for any animal to perform tricks for tourists for 44 years every day. Just like we deserve it, Lolita deserves to be retired.


http://www.komonews.com/news/local/New-twists-in-battle-over-Lolita-give-activists-new-hope-260159721.html

claycamper
claycamper

Lolita can't be released.  She'd die of stress in the open ocean after being there for 40 years.  Be smart.  She gets better care there than she would in the ocean.  Actually even better if Sea World took her.  Bigger pools.

dorisadavis
dorisadavis

Free this beautiful creature today! Let us all rejoice in doing the right thing! Her capture into captivity was all about money and we all know money is the root of all evil. Good luck Lolita! Praying for your safe and expediant return to your family.

yamina086
yamina086

Enough is enough. Free Lolita!

shaz678999
shaz678999

Lolita/Tokitae has done her time. Let her retire with her family/pod. She has earnt it.

lennox0900
lennox0900

Free Lolita! Let her be reunited with her family so she can spend the rest of her days free and happy, the way these beautiful creatures were intended to be!

brhau89
brhau89

Free Lolita!!!!! Killer whales shouldn't be in captivity!!! It's torture!!!!

Cindy Seip
Cindy Seip

YES!!! It's about time!!! Watch the movie Blackfish

lovemyjuju
lovemyjuju

Free Lolita!!!! We were just at the Seaquarium with my sons school for a field trip and its depressing how small her pool is. These poor animals belong in the ocean.


vprota
vprota

Orcas belong  to the ocean we must move away from keeping these beautiful intelligent creatures in captivity!

.

vitaluna919
vitaluna919

To all the people trying to justify her captivity by stating she would starve and die in the wild riddle me this...have you ever seen an indoor cat escape? Their instincts kick in and they climb trees and kill birds and lizards and SURVIVE. FREE LOLITA AND ALL OTHER ORCAS IN CAPTIVITY!

reeart2
reeart2

My fingers are crossed: the freedom issue could set an example for the release of other captive Orcas. They belong to their own family pod and should be allowed to 'go home' before it's too late. 

quitecontrary.domian
quitecontrary.domian

Why do people continue to comment...thinking they will be immediately set free, starve & die??  Don't they read about the plans for rehabilitation, for sea pens?  Please, it's about time they had some freedom.  I would rather die free than be stuck in a tiny container for the rest of my life!  We should not keep any animals in captivity. What right do we have? It's disgusting, greedy, self-serving & heartless. Among other things!  REHABILITATE & SET THEM FREE. LET THEM FEEL THE OCEAN AROUND THEM.  <3

drudown
drudown

Listen to me as only a saint could listen for it is not time for me tell you a lie. 


If you think "setting the captive Killer Whales free" will result in ANYTHING other than the DEATH of the animal 'set free'- sorry, they just STARVE and DIE. 


No, Keiko did not "get on Finface and hook up with old pods" he starved to death and so will each and every one "released" against Science and therefore all the odds. (See, e.g., "group hunting does NOT inure to the benefit of isolated, semi-domesticated Orcas" article from the Office of Obvious Marine Information) 


Having seen Killer Whales off Cabo myself, I can attest to the wonder of their spell. These captive Killer Whales are AMBASSADORS of the species as far as even a blind man can tell.


However, it is absolutely shortsighted to underestimate the integral role captive Killer Whales play as such an ambassador- not just for the species but, indeed, ALL marine life that is under threat from climate change, commercial fishing and industrial pollution.


Perhaps the fact that Killer Whales in the wild are the most toxic animals on Earth can be leveraged to open people's eyes about how industrial pollution defiles the entire FOOD CHAIN we share.


In this regard, "fracking" in CA should be ENJOINED.


(enter concerned soccer mom to teenage texter: "do you even care?")


And yet here? Faux muzzled silence, uninterrupted.


(see, e.g., 'Gasland' documentary)


What a travesty of justice.

cowgirl0680
cowgirl0680

Orcas are such social animals and deserve room to move, family to socialize with. Lolita has suffered long enough in her bath tub jail cell, she deserves the life and freedom she was blessed with at birth, not the life of enprisonmemt for humans entertainment while she is forced to do tricks for food. Set her free, make it right, give her back to her mother, and her ocean.

crocroc67
crocroc67

The orcas are endangered because their environment is toxic and their food is depleted. Neither of these facts change by adding an elderly whale who is too old to reproduce.

The consequences of trying to "free Lolita" are that she will be tortured mentally and physically until she dies. If anyone truly claims to love Lolita, they would never advocate moving her from the clean water and plentiful food she gets right where she is.

ralphpetrucci
ralphpetrucci topcommenter

I do not think she is suffering - and nobody does know that.

hheyamandaa
hheyamandaa

@claycamper  How about we lock you in a room to live out your life in solitary confinement. Then we'll play you tapes of your family and tell you that you can't go be with them because you're being better taken care of in the lonely room you've been kept in. Oh but we'll put you in a bigger room :) People need to start using their damn heads.

Fredfred
Fredfred

Your analogy is perfect because cats and killer whales are EXACTLY the same. Please educate yourself and look up what happened to dolphins Buck and Luther when Ric O'Barry thought as you do and just opened the gates and set them free. It was not a happy ending. O'Barry was responsible for their starvation and eventual horrible death. The same fate would meet Lolita if you got your way.

drudown
drudown

@quitecontrary.domian  


Taking your sentiments to illogical conclusion, the "crazy people should run the government" and "bribes should be legal" wait, that is the GOP. 

vitaluna919
vitaluna919

@drudown First of all get your facts straight. Keiko did not die from "starvation" in the wild he died from pneumonia. He was one of the longest living orcas in captivity before he was released. He was 26 when he passed and the average life span of a wild orca is between 30-50 years. 

hheyamandaa
hheyamandaa

@crocroc67  That's why orcas are thriving in the wild and live to be 80 something years old?

howard115
howard115

@crocroc67 You do this a lot. Here's the answer, as if you can listen:

The pollutants in the Salish Sea are not the contagious type, they are PCBs and PBDEs, known as hormone blockers. She spent the first 3-5 years of her life in these waters, which is when lifelong immunities to any local contagious diseases are established, and her immune system is believed to be normal.

PCBs and PBDEs are ubiquitous in the food webs in the sea and on land, and take many years to build up to dangerous levels, and then primarily for newborns who get the toxins from their mothers during fetal development and lactation, and adults with heavy PCB loads that are nutritionally stressed, when they metabolize their fats, where the PCBs tend to lodge.

The good news is that those levels are going down. See:

Ross, Peter S., Marie Noël, Dyanna Lambourn, Neil Dangerfield, John Calambokidis, Steven Jeffries (2013) Declining concentrations of persistent PCBs, PBDEs, PCDEs, and PCNs in harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) from the Salish Sea. Progress in Oceanography, Volume 115, August 2013, Pages 160–170.

ABSTRACT
...Over the course of the 20 years between 1984 and 2003, PCB concentrations had declined by 81%, PCDEs declined by 71%, and PCNs by 98%...


cewing
cewing

@crocroc67 your reply means the same as your response...full of Croc.  she could make it, if they hadn't forced her into captivity we wouldn't be fighting 43years later to free her.  wake up sleeper

cewing
cewing

@crocroc67 your reply matches your name, full of Croc.  she shouldn't have ever been in a tank this long. she CAN recoup from Years of slavery, if you had any Common Sense, you would be fighting along with us to free her. and she has done her sentence, her only crime?  she's an animal.  her mother is still alive, and she still knows her mother's voice.  so yes....Lolita

tjburrows7
tjburrows7

@ralphpetrucci She has been alone in a tiny tank all this time since her friend Hugo committed suicide in 1980, other than a few fellow slaves in the form of small dolphins to keep her company from time to time, whose company she would not normally in the wild have kept. Orcas are highly social animals.  Federal law requires certain things, like tank size and depth, and shade; none of which her tank has ever complied with yet she has been allowed to live in the heat of South Florida all these years in inhumane and illegal conditions.  Despite all this she continues to survive which is NOT a testament to good care, but rather a testament to her unique constitution as every other orca captured along with her during that brutal hunt is now DEAD and most died within a few years. 


Is she suffering?  How can any of us presume to know that?  How can you presume to think not?  What is for sure is she was ripped in most brutal fashion from her family in 1970 as a young orca.  Her only orca friend - not from her family - Hugo, could not take captivity and killed himself in 1980 by bashing his head against the concrete walls of their tiny tank.  Lolita has worked 365 days a year performing in several shows a day since her capture.  Even human beings are not expected to work 365 days a year until they die.  But that will be her fate if the U.S. Government does not finally exhibit good sense and compassion.  Why should Lolita and so many more dolphins and orcas be forced to perform their wholes lives in tiny tanks to enrich a few greedy companies and never be allowed even a reasonable retirement.  

cewing
cewing

@ralphpetrucci wake up dude, how would you like to be in a prison too small for you to really live in as you would if you were out of it?  she needs to be Freed!

flightestman
flightestman

@hheyamandaa @claycamper he just works for sea world, how about he dies and get reincarnated back into orca and is captured and force do to trick for the rest of her life. Ask the whale what she wants, you may die taking you to the ocean orj to meet you family an be free or not going and living a water puddle.  How can the open ocean where orcas have volve in for millions of years be worse then swimming pool that isn't even anything like the real ocane. How come whales live in wild  up to 90 yeas of age but they die within 25 years in capitivy.


kaydeemeow8
kaydeemeow8

@Fredfred  actually keiko the star of free willy was set free and did just fine they retaught him to hunt and survive in the wild. He lived and died free in the end as all things should. Lolita deserves he chance at freedom and she has a much better chance than keiko since her pod still swims in the same waters it did when she was abducted. 

tjburrows7
tjburrows7

@Fredfred You are referring to a situation from decades ago and much has been learned since then.  Nobody is suggesting to just dump Lolita in the open ocean and hope for the best.  Please do your homework and read up on this; there is a comprehensive plan for moving Lolita out of that tiny illegal unshaded tank, to a sea pen, with a long term plan for hoping to integrate her eventually back with her family who she was brutally torn from in 1970.  At the very least doesn't 44 years of forced labor for human profit and entertainment warrant some sort of relief and retirement for this poor orca?  

vitaluna919
vitaluna919

There is a thing called rehabilitation and tracking. You can't base your judgment off of another event involving dolphins just like I can't compare orcas to cats. You've got to TRY before writing off something completely. The fact is her tank is cruel in size. Maybe if they took some of that money in their pockets and gave her a tank worthy of her size my views could be changed but her current conditions are unfair and deplorable. Better yet maybe if they hadn't captured aka stole her from the wild when she was a FREE calf and forced her into the world of human entertainment and profit we wouldn't even be having this discussion

janereniers
janereniers

@tjburrows7 @drudown documentary: keiko, the untold story.
he did die from pneumonia, an ilness that is regularly found in captive animals. He lived for 5 years after he was saved from that pool...


madmanm1111
madmanm1111

@hheyamandaa @crocroc67 Thriving in the wild, the whole debate has happened because they are now endangered.  Does not sound like thriving.  Sounds like to push an agenda you will say anything.  Set her free she needs to add to the pod because they are endangered and not doing well.  Set her free so she can thrive in the wild like the other whales.  Well are they actually thriving and doing well or not?  depends on how you want to change reality to support your myopic view.  Scientifically the wild is not doing so well.  Scientifically while wild lifespan averages are decreasing captive lifespans are increasing.  At our current rate unless people fight to change the wild environments then in the future the only orcas that will be left could well be the ones in captivity therefor if you release all those into the wild to die with the rest you will have successfully contributed to wiping out the entire population or killer whales. 

It looks from my research it would serve us all to protect and improve the wild environment before we try to plunge more killer whales into a degrading environment.  I concur with previous statements it would serve these groups like PETA to spend their money on improving the environment for the wild before making lawyers and Marketing firms rich.

crocroc67
crocroc67

Oh Howie...so the toxic cesspool is a little bit less toxic.  That's wonderful, except for that whole newborn calves dying from drinking poison milk thing.  So were you the genius that wrote the plan that wants to treat the rest of her life like a science experiment?  Here's a quote from your plan:

"If Lolita were transitioned to a sea pen, her scientific utility would increase dramatically."

"Scientific utility" sounds so warm and fuzzy.  Is that how you talk about someone you love by discussing their "scientific utility?"  No, that's how you talk about a lab animal, or a statistical subset.  What about this quote from your plan:


Lolita "could provide a valuable opportunity for research designed to determine the source of SRKW contamination. Researchers theorize that the PCBs found in wild SRKWs may come from the SRKW diet; others theorize that the contaminants are in the water."

So you go on to propose feeding Lolita contaminated toxic fish to see how quickly she gets sick?  Not if she gets sick, but when.  An what about stress?  Here's how you propose to stress her out:

"To learn more about acoustic pollution, Lolita's stress hormones could be monitored before, during, and after exposure to vessel traffic."

You want to stress her out to measure the change in her stress hormones...to what end?  how does understanding her stress translate to helping any other animal?  And you want to subject her to oil spill conditions as mentioned so cavalierly in this lovely passage:

"Lolita could also help researchers develop a response plan to help the SRKW in the event of an oil spill-a real possibility as the SRKWs are located in one of the leading petroleum refining centers in the U.S."

So to sum up...You, Howie, want to move Lolita from clean pristine water to toxic Puget Sound. (Which is just a little less toxic than it was before.)  You, Howie, want to feed Lolita contaminated fish to see how quickly she gets sick instead of allowing her to eat the same quality of fish you would like to eat.  You, Howie, want to see how high Lolita's stress hormones can go before that kills her.  And you, Howie, want to expose Lolita to oil spill conditions so you can experiment with which clean up chemicals you can use before that kills her.


All of this is wonderful in theory if all you want is a lab subject to help with the recovery of the wild population in general.  "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one."  That was a heart wrenching scene from a Star Trek movie where someone chooses to sacrifice their own life to save other.  But that is not the dynamic at play here.  This is you, Howie, choosing to take Lolita from the pristine waters and plentiful quality food she has known for the past 43 years and throw here into a tortuous hell until it kills her...all in the name of conservation.


That makes no sense if you care at all about Lolita as an individual being and not just a subset of the endangered SRKW DPS.  I guess we know what side you are really on.

crocroc67
crocroc67

If PETA and ALDF wanted to help the endangered orcas, they could have spent the money wasted on this effort on the recovery efforts for the Southern Residents. But they haven't spent a dime helping the wild orcas because they don't care about wild orcas. They just need press so it looks like their doing something so they can fundraise. This is not about Lolita but about money for the activists.

Fredfred
Fredfred

Did you read the proposal? They want to feed her toxic fish to see how quickly she gets sick. They want to purposely torture her with with prop sound and other noises to see how quickly the stress hormones in her blood increase. This is not caring for Lolita in any way. This is treating her as a science experiment.

crocroc67
crocroc67

Did you read the proposal? They want to feed her toxic fish to see how quickly she gets sick. They want to purposely torture her with with prop sound and other noises to see how quickly the stress hormones in her blood increase. This is not caring for Lolita in any way. This is treating her as a science experiment.

PETA, ALDF, and Orca Network are advocating this cruelty and it is unconscionable.

hheyamandaa
hheyamandaa

@crocroc67  This is the farthest thing from the truth. At least he did with dignity instead of living out his miserable lie in a concrete tank. People like you deserve to live in solitary confinement since you're so keen on it.

jewels
jewels

@crocroc67  Activists do talk about Keiko because he had at least 5 years of freedom. If you were imprisoned like that you'd trade your eyes for a day of freedom. Speaking of $25 million, why don't Arthur Hertz of MSQ and the execs at SeaWorld help Orcas in the wild with all the money they've made off their backs. SW gives less than 1% to conservation.

crocroc67
crocroc67

@vitaluna919 Okay...Let's look at the abysmal failure that was the Keiko release.  Twenty-five million dollars was spent to release 1 animal that was not from an endangered species.  For $25 million they abandoned him in the North Atlantic hoping he would hook up with a pod...any pod.  When he arrived in Norway, he had lost a significant amount of weight and was riddled with parasites including intestinal worms trailing out of his anus.  

You don't hear any of the activists talk about that because it doesn't fit their narrative.  The reason they shifted him to an isolated fjord is they didn't want people to see what kind of shape he was in.  And when he died, there was no necropsy.  They buried their mistake as far from prying eyes as possible.  Why would anyone trust another animal's life to people like this?


And one last thought...How much positive conservation work could have been done for the wild killer whales for that $25 million?  What a waste.

vitaluna919
vitaluna919

How do you know she's being fed pristine fish? Have you looked up the effects of the fukushima radiation leak lately? Yes let's just leave her in a fish bowl the basic size of a lab rats cage because she has sparkling water and yummy fish. Wake up she was a science experiment the second they stole her from the wild and taught her cute little tricks in exchange for her nourishment.

jewels
jewels

@crocroc67 @tjburrows7  J, K, and L pods have never been able to successfully sustain an increase in population numbers since an entire generation of young orcas was captured in the '70's. Yes pollution, acidity etc are important factors and have to be addressed too.

crocroc67
crocroc67

@tjburrows7 You are naive to believe that PETA does anything where PETA doesn't benefit the most.  If they really cared about any wild endangered population, they have plenty of resources at hand to help.  They are only involved now because it's good for their fundraising efforts.  They are the greediest, profit driven organization associated with this topic.

And according to you, the killer whales that were collected in  1970 are responsible for the toxic condition of the water?  Or are they responsible for the increased boat traffic?  Maybe they are responsible for the Chinook salmon stock being depleted.Because those are the reasons the killers whales were put on the endangered species list in the first place.

tjburrows7
tjburrows7

@crocroc67 The Southern Residents would not be in the predicament they are in now, had the violent deadly captures not occurred when Lolita was captured.  Entire breeding generations were ripped from that pod which has to date still not been able to recover from that travesty.  She is the sole survivor of 35 plus orcas from that era.  This is not just PETA this is a large number of conservation groups and animal advocates fighting to stop the insane and gratuitous enslavement of cetaceans.  This is not about press or raising money for PETA this is about doing what is right, finally, for animals who should never have been enslaved to begin with and who are absolutely not suited for life in captivity performing tricks in order to eat, and in order to enrich greedy profit driven big companies. 

luckeeloo
luckeeloo

@Fredfred Your sockpuppets are showing. Moderate the comments, New Times, or watch a sea park pay this guy $6 an hour to copy/paste his drivel.

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