Retire Lolita the Orca Whale
- By: Angie Rodriguez
- Target: Charlie Crist, the Governor of the State of Florida, APHIS and the USDA
"Though a young and healthy adult at about age 36, Lolita is the oldest whale in captivity. She is kept in the oldest and smallest orca tank in the U.S. The owner was quoted in a tourist trade magazine saying: "We recognize that the facility needs a pretty major upgrade, some aspects of the facility are functionally obsolete." As of May 2, 1998, however, the Florida State Legislature has said there will be no such upgrade. In January, 2002 the Seaquarium admitted they simply don't have the cash to build a new whale stadium in the foreseeable future.
For the past 30 years, Lolita has performed reliably, entertaining visitors to the Miami Seaquarium with her power and grace. Lolita simply has no other choice but to do tricks. Trainers will deprive her of either food or attention and affection if she does not perform on cue. She is very intelligent, however, and tends to want to accommodate what is asked of her, so very little coercion is required. On occasion she has refused to perform, but fortunately for her mental health, those angry or depressed moods seem to be rare. This even temperament may be a clue to her astounding longevity in captivity.
Provided with good husbandry and medical care, she has proven to be exceptionally robust, outliving by over a decade all of the 44 other whales from her community that survived capture operations and were delivered to parks within three years of her capture. Nevertheless, by most accounts, one way or another Lolita's performing days will come to an end soon, probably within a few years. Lolita is the oldest whale in captivity today.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has objected to the Federal Government's failure to enforce the Animal Welfare Act in regard to the small size of Lolita's tank. In short, the minimum horizontal dimension should, by law, be at least 48' wide in both directions. From the front wall to the wall that forms the barrier the pool is only 35' wide. The USDA says the barrier "does not present a significant obstruction" for Lolita, as if she can simply swim through the wall. Orcas swim an average of 80 miles a day, the tank at the Miami Seaquarium is a mere 80' x 73'. Lolita's tank is not a reasonable habitat for a whale.
Her main problems have resulted from her solitary confinement and separation from her family, combined with a lack of normal physical activity and environmental stimulation. Lolita's only orca friend is a children's inflatable toy. Lolita is the last surviving killer whale in captivity from Washington State, and 23 of her relatives who were present with her at capture are still alive.
Trainers at the Seaquarium care for Lolita and try to give her companionship. She seems to enjoy their presence, but when compared to the 24-hour a day, lifetime company she could have with her real family, such playful moments are clearly insufficient.
Biologically and logistically she is an excellent candidate for return to her home waters to be retired in a monitored seapen in preparation for rejoining her family, but objections to her return by the park have so far prevented the move. It is important to note that even in the largest and most modern marine park facilities, survival for killer whales is significantly reduced.
Lolita is the oldest whale in captivity today. Only Corky, held at the San Diego Sea World was taken before Lolita and remains alive today. Lolita remains healthy, but orcas in tanks usually die of massive internal infections that prove lethal within a few days or hours of first detection. So courageous and yet so gentle, but how much longer can she stay alive in a concrete bowl?" - The Orca Network (http://www.orcanetwork.org/captivity/lolitatoday.html)
We, the undersigned, demand the immediate retirement and release of the orca whale known as Lolita, currently held captive in an undersized tank under enormous stress at the Miami Seaquarium. Lolita will be taken to Washington State, where the people there have already prepared a seapen for to rehabilitate her and reintroduce her back into the wild.
The amount of world recognition, praise and respect that Miami and the State of Florida would get from people around the world would be enormous. Florida would be respected as a state that cares about animals and their well being. It would send a message around the world that Florida does not support animal abuse in our own backyard.
Be the change that Florida, and Lolita the Orca whale, so desperately needs. You are an understanding and efficient governor; we all hope that when it comes to Lolita and animal welfare, you will be as understanding and efficient.
Thank you so much for taking time of out of your busy schedule to read our letter. We hope that you will join us in our fight against animal creulty and to help Lolita retire.