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Lolita is a 43 year old captive killer whale (orca) living at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida. Since her capture in 1970, she has been kept in a tank that is illegal by the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) standards for size requirements. Lolita is approximately 21 feet long and 7,000 pounds. Her tank is 20 feet deep at the deepest point and a mere 12 feet deep around the edges. The pool is only 35 feet wide. The Miami Seaquarium is considered to be one of the most dilapidated aquatic parks in the world. It is in need of major repairs, and per the Marine Mammal Inventory Report, has a substantial death rate for their animals.
Lolita is housed with several small Pacific White-Sided dolphins and they perform one or two shows a day, depending on Seaquarium attendance.
Many well intentioned people doubt that Lolita can be safely returned to Puget Sound. Some of the worlds top orca researchers and past releases of cetaceans show that captive animals can almost always be successfully reintroduced to their habitats.
We wish to see Lolita retired to a bay pen in her native waters off the coast of Washington State.
As a part of APHIS at The United States Department of Agriculture, I know that you are concerned with the future of marine mammals in captivity and the situation at the Miami Seaquarium.
I would like to voice my concerns in uniform with my profession and generation about the life of a captive Orca named Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium. It causes me deep heartache seeing Lolita in her small tank at the Miami Seaquarium. Her tank is illegal by section 3.104 of APHIS regulations, entitled space requirements for an Orca.
As you probably know Lolita's tank mate for nearly 10 years was an Orca captured previous to her named Hugo. Hugo eventually reached young maturity and started to outgrow their enclosure, and this lead to him banging his head off the glass of the tank until he gave himself an aneurism. That means that an Orca living at the Seaquarium literally committed suicide. It does not matter how well the trainers and staff take care of these animals they simply are too big and too smart to be in captivity. The Seaquarium has not even been granted membership in the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) because AZA standards require that cetaceans be kept only with companions of their own species. Lolita has been kept solo for 28 years.
New aquariums are still being built in the United States, but none of these two dozen new aquariums plans to hold cetaceans. The trend is away from the circus-like atmosphere of the older marine parks and toward a new era of exciting educational and inspirational exhibitry. The conservation and education learned from observing marine mammals is best gathered in their natural environment.
I understand that the Miami Seaquarium has been a huge tourist destination in the past, but recently its allure has been declining. It is falling apart other than the new dolphin facilities that were built, which was a ludicrous decision to do when they could have spent the money on building Lolita a much needed larger tank. But, that was good it proves that Lolita is no longer the star attraction of the Seaquarium that she once was the dolphins are. Due to that decision Lolita should be able to retire to her native waters which would take a step in the right direction for the Seaquarium that so desperately needs some good publicity.
Lolita would not just survive, but thrive in a sea pen in her native waters, and ultimately she could rejoin her family, effectively forage cooperatively for fish once again, and resume her normal social role and biological functions after full release if she chooses to do so. If that proves impossible, she could live out a healthy life, retired in her native habitat, cared for in a sea pen while accessible to the orca community that she is related to. As described at length in Review of the Releasability of Long Term Captive Orcas. There is no significant risk involved in Lolita's relocation to a protected sea pen in her native habitat. The State of Washington and its officials are willing and ready to get the wheels turning on this rehabilitation/retirement plan for Lolita. Please consider these possibilities and be the change that you wish to see in the world.