The New York Whale and Dolphin Action League

LOLITA: An Orca That Has Captured Many Hearts

This is the story of Lolita, the lovely Orca living in a dilapidated aquarium, and the attempts to secure her "retirement" and release. Shortly after her brutal capture in Puget Sound in 1970, Lolita was placed in a substandard-sized tank, smaller than those allowed by law, under promises that a new tank would soon be built for her. 34 years later, she is still in that same tiny tank.

In September of 2003 Miami-Dade County City building inspectors at the Miami Seaquarium closed the Whale Stadium and three other exhibits because of numerous safety violations. The life-safety issues include exposed electrical wiring, crumbling concrete and loose, corroded guardrails on stairways and viewing decks such as the bridge over the shark moat. Inspectors found exposed wires everywhere, open electrical boxes, light posts with bad wiring. Notably disturbing was the state of many of the handrails and guardrails that protect people from falling into fish tanks or tumbling down stairs. The anchors on some, such as at the reef tank, were so corroded they were completely gone and would not hold up if anyone leaned against them.

If this is how the park's visitors and employees are being treated, what can we expect for the Orca? Information from reliable sources have described Lolita between shows as languishing, listless in her undersized chlorinated tank. Can it be true that the Seaquarium is giving Lolita Prozac for fear that their star attraction will succumb to the stresses of her lonely life? The Miami Seaquarium has refused to release her medical records which should be open to public scrutiny. Watched carefully and concerned with her survival, many have taken the cause of freeing Lolita into their hearts.

Long aware of the Seaquarium's overall neglect and hoping to gain her retirement, world-renowned marine biologist Ken Balcomb* of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, WA, prepared a tape of Lolita's pod vocalizing in Puget Sound. During one of Lolita's performances Balcomb and others played the tape of members of her family vocalizing. There was no doubt that she recognized their call. Eyewitnesses remarked, "Lolita went NUTS!" The group held up a sign which read, "Lolita, your family is calling you!" to inform the audience that her pod was alive and well and that she still belongs to them. The Seaquarium's response: the group's equipment was confiscated and they were escorted out by security under threat of arrest.

Weekly protests and rallies calling for Lolita's retirement outside the Miami Seaquarium have drawn hundreds of activists and concerned individuals from around the world. Famous celebrities have brought their name and even attended the rallies to free Lolita. These include singer Elton John and former Flipper-trainer Ric O'Barry. Others active in the fight to save, protect and keep whales free include Pierce Brosnan, James Taylor and Jean-Michel Cousteau. Scientists realize that Lolita is still capable of bearing young if returned to wild, which would bolster the numbers of her highly threatened pod.

Today, 105 chapters of "Lolita's Legions" from around the world comprised of children, scouts, parents, and activists are calling for her freedom and return to Puget Sound. Miami Seaquarium CEO Arthur Hertz will hear none of it although he was offered a large sum of money for her freedom.

After earning her captors literally billions of dollars, isn't it time Lolita was allowed to return to her pod? Balcomb and other scientists have outlined a retirement and release program for her. The Miami Seaquarium would like nothing better than to sabotage any efforts to free her. Is the Seaquarium working for the well-being of their longest-running performer and killer whale? Marine biologists who visit and witness the illegal-sized, decrepit facility assert that in those conditions she doesn't have a lot of time left.

The general public has become more and more aware of the plight of cetaceans in captivity. Orcas suffer incredibly throughout their lives when held in tiny concrete tanks. Artificial, chlorinated water is unhealthy for their skin and eyes; infections are common. Forced behaviors, such as jumping through hoops or giving humans "rides" only reinforces the concept that humans can dominate and control even the greatest of marine species. In order to achieve these Orca "feats," food is withheld. This is not education. This is a perverse attempt to justify making a huge profit for this entertainment industry. So many people have told me personally that it is actually painful to observe these majestic Orcas (or belugas and dolphins for that matter) swimming in endless circles in a concrete tank. Orcas can swim more than 300 miles every day yet when trapped and controlled in concrete tanks, do not vocalize, cannot echo-locate and do not use the complex language that defines them as one of the most intelligent of species on the planet. The average life span for an Orca in captivity is 12 years. In the wild Orcas live to be 80.

It's time to FREE LOLITA!

* Ken Balcomb documented the tragic deaths of 17 rare whales that occurred during a navy sonar exercise in the Bahamas in March, 2000. In September, 2003, Balcomb captured footage of a navy destroyer that had its sonar devices operating while in full view of numerous cetaceans, an Orca pod and a whale watch boat. (Ten porpoises were found dead within hours on the beaches.)


The New York Whale and Dolphin Action League
PO Box 273, Yonkers, NY 10707 USA
Phone: 914-793-9186
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A Project of Cetacean Society International

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