Lolita, the oldest living orca in captivity is still being held in a barren, concrete tank in Miami’s Seaquarium after arriving there 46 years ago almost to the day. For over four decades she has been forced to survive in a space that is smaller than the guidelines require for an orca her size; being only 35 feet wide from the front wall to the work island with the shallow depth of 20 feet. It is the smallest tank in North America; a dismal reality for any marine animal; especially for a 20 foot intelligent and emotional orca that in the wild would swim the distance of oceans with her pod as company.
Lolita comes from a southern pod of Puget Sound orca whales that are endangered, with estimated less than 80 of them left in the wild after large numbers were brutally rounded up over a period of ten years between 1965 to 1975 and killed or put into captivity. Last year, courts ruled in favour of extending the endangered status to Lolita. With hope this new listing would give them leverage to free Lolita from her shameful conditions, a group of concerned animal welfare groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Southern Florida alleging that Lolita’s conditions of captivity violated the Endangered Species Act.
Unfortunately, the court ruled against her release but the plaintiffs successfully got the reports from their four expert witnesses made public despite Seaquarium’s attempts to keep them private. What they reveal makes it obvious why they didn’t want anyone to see them.
The reports show that despite from being “lovingly cared for,” Lolita suffers from ongoing tooth pain, dehydration and an inflammatory eye condition requiring daily drops. Yet most upsetting is the medical records and observations relating to the attacks Lolita has endured last year from her fellow captive orcas. Over fifty times the orcas scraped Lolita’s skin with their teeth causing open, bleeding wounds.
“In reality, they harass and injure her, often to the point she needs antibiotics and painkillers for bleeding open wounds,” wrote John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld killer-whale trainer. While the marine entertainment park portrays the impression to the public that the dolphins and the orca are companions, in reality, they are making her lonely existence worse.
But it is not their fault.
Captivity Drives Marine Animals Insane
Dolphins, like orcas, are designed by nature to swim vast distances — over 100 miles per day. They hunt, they play, they communicate via sound and they create complex and loving families and communities. When they, like orcas, are forced to live in the unnatural environments in aquariums they suffer greatly — physically and emotionally — and can resort to aggression and violence; to others and to themselves. Hugo, the other orca that was also kept in Miami’s Seaquarium over 20 years ago, was so tortured by his living conditions he would bash his head against his tank walls so hard that eventually, he killed himself through a brain haemorrhage.
In the moving documentary, Blackfish, the terrible conditions that drove the orca Tilikum to attack and kill his trainers at SeaWorld were exposed, showing how when you keep peaceful mammals, that show no history of attacking in the wild, in highly stressful situations for long enough they can become violent through frustration and depression. Just like the dolphins stuck in Lolita’s “bathtub” sized tank have as they lash out at her over and over again. Just as we could if we were ripped away from the ones we love to be kept isolated in restricted spaces and forced to perform over and over.
Is This Really Entertaining?
The reason Lolita, and any of her fellow marine animals, are kept locked up and suffering is because they are making someone money in the name of “education” or “entertainment.” But keeping a wild, intelligent creature in captivity and causing them great stress that mostly results in early death, is as “educational” as the Japanese whale hunts. The way we can learn about and from these incredible creatures is by watching them in their natural environment, not by forcing them to perform tricks.
Not only is it traumatic for the emotionally complex animals to suffer their lives in captivity, how they get there is equally as barbaric – and often not mentioned in the Marine Parks brochures. For each dolphin and orca in captivity, there are many others that have been killed. The bloody cove in Taiji, Japan, sees hundreds of dolphins slaughtered each year – their wasteful deaths funded by the sale of other dolphins captured in the cove being sold to marine parks around the world.
These are “protected mammals” and they are being slaughtered for cheap thrills. It is time to stop this barbaric industry and to free Lolita. There is incredible support sweeping the planet as public opion has swung to remove marine animals from such parks which you can see by the drop in tickets sold and share value in SeaWorld. From airlines to actors and local communities, there is a strong and united calling out against the outdated industry
How You Can Help
- Don’t buy a ticket to the Miami Seaquarium, Seaworld or any other marine park. Lolita is hardly the only orca who is suffering in these cruel establishments and your patronage is what allows these parks to continue operation.
- Support the work of anti-captivity organisations, such as Orca Network and Save Lolita who are campaigning for Lolita’s release. They have a plan devised to see her retire in her home waters and then rehabilitated with her family pod.
- Write a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service asking them to reconsider Lolita’s captivity at Miami Seaquarium.
Lead image source: Kamira/Shutterstock