Great news! The U.S. government agreed to include Lolita in the endangered species listing for Puget Sound orcas! Unfortunately, Lolita is still stuck in that tiny tank at the Miami Seaquarium, but we have high hopes one day Lolita will be placed in a sea pen in her native waters and be set free when her family comes to collect her. This listing will surely help continue the work towards Lolita’s freedom.
There’s something about Killer Whales that amazes people.
Their unique coloring, their mysterious behavior, their astounding intelligence? They’re truly amazing creatures.
Killer whales, also known as Orcas, are found all over the world, yet there is one community in the area of British Columbia that is especially popular: The Southern Residents. This endangered Orca community is a popular attraction for whale watching tours, wildlife photographers and scientists alike.
There are many factors that have contributed to their endangerment, but one particular dark set of events strikes many animal lovers around the world.
Between roughly the years of 1962 and 1973, many marine parks discovered that Killer Whales could be “tamed” and kept in tanks to entertain humans for astronomical prices. It seemed an elite style of tourism. The most easily accessible orca community was the Southern Residents and wild captures ran rampant. Inhumane practices were used, including harpooning, shooting the victims with shotguns and throwing explosives into the water to round up the animals.
One particular capture remains the most infamous event in Southern Resident history: The Penn Cove roundup.
Ted Griffin, a famous Orca captor during this time, rounded up multiple Killer Whales for marine parks around the world during this capture, for marine parks in Japan, America, the UK, and France. During this traumatic capture, five orcas died. Griffin and his crew filled their stomachs with rocks and anchors, threw them back, and attempted to hide them from the public. They washed up ashore a short time later, and Griffin admitted to their deaths being involved in the capture.
Of the seven Orca calves that were stolen for captivity, only one remains alive. Her name is Lolita, and this is her story.
Lolita, formerly named Tokitae, was four years old when captured. Common Orca knowledge shows that family systems are very important, and mothers and babies typically stay together for life. To rip apart a mother and child is an extremely traumatic event. Lolita, after being removed from her mother, was then promptly shipped on a stressful three thousand mile journey to her new, confined, home: The Miami Seaquarium in Florida.
She was bought for a mere $6,000. She was placed in a tank, casually named as the “Whale Bowl,” that measures a mere 35 by 80 feet long, and 20 feet deep, with the edges being 12 feet. She temporarily was reunited with Hugo, another male that was possibly in her same pod, who was captured in the same area.
Lolita and Hugo performed for the public multiple times per day, at one point even five times daily. Their return for their service included buckets of dead, dehydrated fish. The pair got along well, but Hugo did not handle captivity as well as Lolita did. Multiple sources have stated that he had a habit of bumping and banging his head against tank walls when he was bored or anxious. After just ten years in captivity, Hugo died from hemorrhaging his head. He was only 15 years old, a mere fraction of the age wild Orca males live to, which is around 30 to 60 years.
After Hugo’s death, Lolita was left alone.
Because Killer Whales are so socially oriented, and thrive on interaction from their own kind, it is against federal law to keep an Orca captive without another same-species companion. This being said, Lolita has been alone in captivity for over 30 years, after Hugo’s untimely death. The Seaquarium claims that keeping a few Pacific White-Sided dolphins in her tank are sufficient, but even the minimum requirements of keeping an Orca captive say otherwise.
Lolita has been witnessed multiple times vocalizing out loud to herself, yet there is no one to answer her.
Over the years, many have noticed her plight, and have asked for her release back to her family. The Miami Seaquarium says in response that because she has been in captivity for 42 years, and without a sufficient companion for 33 years, that she would not care, or remember how to interact with other orcas, let alone remember her family.
In yet another response, Ken Balcomb (renowned Orca scientist) came to the Seaquarium with recordings of Lolita’s family, and played them to her. You can see her amazing response here. Since we know that mother and child bonds are crucial to Orca survival in the wild, knowing who Lolita’s mother is could seal the deal, if she is released. Her mother, the matriarch of her pod, is named Ocean Sun, and is seen regularly by scientists and tourists alike in the British Columbia area.
Lolita’s tank is sub-standard, and small enough that it is even illegal. The dimensions are 35 by 80 feet long and 20 feet deep, with the edges being 12 feet. Lolita measures 20 feet long, so when she is vertical in her tank, her tail brushes the bottom at all times. When she performs, she usually cannot jump fully out of the water because of lack of space and depth. In the wild, Orca families can travel about one hundred miles per day, and can dive up to depths of around one hundred feet.
To keep such a large predator in such decrepit conditions is inhumane, and highly unnatural.
There are many different indicators that show Lolita’s unhappiness. She is often seen displaying stereotypic behaviors between shows, including logging at the surface or the bottom of the pool for extended amounts of time, and bobbing in and out of the water continuously. These are comparable to a big cat pacing in captivity. It has no goal or function, and conveys emotional distress. Orcas are very curious and energetic; they must be constantly stimulated with an ever-changing environment, something a small concrete tank cannot provide.
Lolita has served her time.
Many organizations and individuals support, and are willing to fund, her rehabilitation and possible release. The proposing institution that would take action if the Seaquarium decides to release her would be The Center for Whale Research, Inc. They are completely willing to take her into their care to rehabilitate her and most likely release if she shows she is independent and would rather be free. If she shows that she is more comfortable under human care, she can peacefully live her days out in a coastal sea pen, where she can encounter passing wild animals, hunt for her own fish, explore the natural rhythms of the sea, and still be under human care.
There are also many celebrities and other groups that fully support Lolita’s release, including Bob Barker, Sir Elton john, Douglas Adams, the Orca Network, ASPCA, the Free Willy Foundation, Earth Island Institute, Born Free Foundation, and many more.
If you would like to help Lolita return home, please send a polite email, and make phone calls to the addresses provided below. Also, spread the word! The more people that understand what Lolita goes through, the more opposition to her continued confinement! The more opposition, the better!
Lolita needs your voice, and if we all come together as one, we can bring change for this broken soul who wants more than anything to go home.
> Marine Mammal fisheries Service
ATTN: Jennefer Skidmore
1335 E-W Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
> Miami Seaquarium
4400 Rickenbacker Causeway
Key Biscayne, FL 33149
Phone: (305) 361-5705
> Department of Business and Professional Regulation
1940 Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0782
> USDA/APHIS Emails (Ask why Lolita’s illegal tank and living conditions are allowed to continue)
Abbey Johnson: I am a seventeen year old Junior in high school currently residing in the town of Columbus, Georgia. I am and have always been a huge animal lover- I have four rescue dogs, multiple fish, and three horses. I’ve been particularly passionate about marine life for as long as I can remember, and have wanted to be a marine biologist to study cetaceans all around the world. When I was a child I lived in Orlando, Florida, and visited the Seaworld park there multiple times. In my childhood ignorance, I often found myself making excuses for the questionable situations and practices I saw during my visits. As I got older, I started to research more on these issues, and found an astonishing amount of negligence and cruelty in the industry of keeping cetaceans in captivity. Ever since, I have been using social media to spread the word, encourage others to join the cause, and boycott marine parks that hold dolphins and whales captive. I have a profile called “Freedom For Whales” on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, and Youtube. Once I finish my higher education, I plan on getting directly involved in this issue, along with helping to study and save our oceans and their inhabitants.
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