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
I don\’t know how the people who have kept this whale in enslavement for most of her life can sleep at night, or look at themselves in a mirror. This is so manifestly abuse, it\’s like forcing a dog to live in a tiny cage. And it isn\’t even "animal abuse," it is the conscious and deliberate abuse of a non-human person! Modern science and the observations of how orcas live and work collectively allows for no other interpretation of the facts. Not only should Lolita (aka Tokitae) be freed, but the people that did this to her should be in prison.
My message to all marine parks.
SeaWorld, you have taken a step forward, however for most of the public it is not enough. You claim that your tanks are "safe" for your Orcas while the ocean is "dangerous" for them, while in reality the opposite is true. Orcas evolved over millions of years to live and thrive in the ocean and to wild caught Orcas tanks are not only alien to them but are also the more hostile environment. And even captive born Orcas, if they are not still born (which a majority are), would find it extremely difficult to live in them. There\’s very little room to swim, they have to compete for space constantly with other whales, and they are always hungry in order to perform tricks (not that the food is that great anyway, and I\’ll get to why)!
Orcas are capable of sustaining speeds at around 8mph and can go as fast as 30mph for a short amount of time. The only time I\’ve ever seen Orcas in a marine parks care ever get any exercise is when their doing tricks in the shows, which only happens for about possibly 3 times a day for about an hour, after that they just stay and float at the surface of the water for the rest of the day with nothing to do. And even if I\’m wrong it\’s still nothing compared to what the wild Orcas get for exercise, which are constantly in motion throughout their entire lives. People say that wild Orcas can travel 100 miles a day, that’s 1,208 laps around the perimeter of their tank or 3,105 lengths back and forth at the longest part of the tank (depending on the size of course), however wild male Orcas can live up to over 60-70 years and females can live up to 80-100 years, and with them traveling 100 miles each day for their entire lives then it certainly does look like captive Orcas are living a dangerously unhealthy life style by not getting this crucial exercise. And with that, how much crucial exercise are your Orcas loosing while they are in those tanks!?
Depending on where they live and what ecotype they are Orcas can have a large variety of food such as sharks, seals, rays, even sea birds, or they can feed on a single food source, for example a curtain kind of fish. In the wild some populations are known to teach their young by hunting an animal and then letting it go afterwards because their just not hungry and don’t want to waste food that may be eaten later. This shows that some wild Orcas eat so much that they simply don’t become hungry in many populations. In captivity however they are fed small amounts of dry dead fish with gelatin, this is a small source of food mixed with something completely alien in their diet that’s made out of pig and cow bones and is supposed to hydrate the Orcas, something that they would get anyway with fresh fish. With a daily diet of this tiny amount of food they are bound to be constantly hungry. The fact proving this point is that the Orcas are kept hungry to keep them performing tricks. Orcas from a different ecotype that eat a wide variety of animals would be hit the hardest by this because they are not getting their nutritional needs met. This is an extremely important issue that needs consideration, if some Orcas are not getting the nutrients that they desperately need then they are more likely to die sooner than other Orcas from a different ecotype that feed mostly on fish! And I haven’t even touched on the anti-depressants you feed them. If you seriously think that you have to feed the Orcas anti-depressants just to get them “happy”, then you couldn’t be anymore wrong! It just proves how right the experts are on these animals!
These are not the only problems with captives however. Many of them suffer from eye and possibly skin conditions thanks to the chlorinated water, the eyes become irritated just like when a human enters the water and Keto, who has strange pockmarks behind his dorsal fin, lesions his right side, and has wrinkled skin both under his dorsal fin and on his side, are all possibly caused by the water! And this isn’t even mentioning their teeth! Not matter which way you look at it, it is just pure, downright painful for them to have broken and shattered teeth. You claim that their degrading teeth is caused by them chewing on their food when in reality this isn’t true, the food is thrown into the back of their throat were they can just swallow it, most likely to avoid any bits of food getting stuck in their drilled teeth. The real reason their teeth are in horrendous condition is that they chew on the sides of their tanks. We can clearly see the damage they’ve caused to their tanks when you drain the water to maintain the tank itself. We can see the bits of concrete and paint that have been damaged and I wouldn’t be suppressed if they accidently swallowed small pieces of them, leading to possible sickness. The amount of damage the Orcas have in Loro Parque alone is about 41.66% to 70% and we know that it’s getting worse the longer they live there. With a cat, dog, monkey, cow, or even a horse many rescue organisations would not stand for this amount of cruelty in the amount of time that the Orcas would have to put up with it.
Orcas in the wild are known to live with their mothers for their entire lives and only leave their pod for a short time to breed before returning to them. The 145 Orcas that were taken from the wild and from their mothers as babies suffered huge amounts of stress, and now only 20 survived the ordeal. The endangered Southern Resident Orca pod suffered massive causalities thanks to marine parks like SeaWorld! And after all that only one is still alive today who is now kept in illegal conditions, Lolita. She has lived in captivity for nearly 50 years when she could have been helping to repopulate the Southern Residents! Not once has she contributed to her species (not that she could anyway seeing as she’s the only Southern Resident in captivity) and laws with her are being broken every day with her being in that ridiculously tiny tank! She is better off in a sea sanctuary now more than ever, if she doesn’t get any help soon then she could die within the next few years or even months, because the average age for captive Orcas is only 13 to 30 years!
Oh and don’t make the case that you haven’t taken Orcas out of the wild in 35 years, I know your lying on that as well. I know for a fact that Morgan was taken out of the wild in 2010 and now she somehow ended up on your asset list, making it 6 years that you haven’t taken an Orca out of the wild. And don’t tell me she’s deaf either. She spent 3 years in the wild and I’m pretty sure that she would have done just fine if the rescuers released her. I’m also not ruling out the fact that she’s deaf because of captivity, I wouldn’t be surprised if an Orca from the wild, who has sensitive hearing, would be deaf from the loud music that marine parks play constantly. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the staff was lying to us about her condition or is not really sure that she has anything at all. Considering that the announcement was made during a court hearing and considering that a zoo vet mistook an employee in a gorilla costume for an actual gorilla, see “Zoo Vet Mistakes Employee In Gorilla Suit For An Actual Ape, Shoots Him With Tranquilizer” on The Dodo for that, it makes sense that they would lie just to keep her at the park to gain money or is completely inept at looking after Orcas.
Because of the mixture of all of these facts they would all lead to the animals becoming extremely stressed, increasing their heartrate, rising their blood pressure, and giving them faster breathing rates. Thanks to scientific research we now know that months of exposure to stress can permanently destroy brain neurons, this can affect learning, impulse control, reasoning and memory. It can also influence diseases that can cause intestinal distress, depression and many other problems. This is possibly the reason why Tilikum has a possible bacterial infection in his lungs and possibly why he attacked and killed three people within his lifetime. It’s also the reason why the animals attack each other and rake their teeth across other Orcas. In the wild if an Orca attacked another Orca then it would usually be a male fighting other males over the right to mate, and even then they could just simply swim away to avoid any real injury’s or scars. The victims here are captives of all genders, all ages that don’t have the luxury of swimming away and are forced to endure the attacks. This causes permanent scars on their body, something that you don’t realise is extrodeneraly painful for them. To them it’s like knifes being raked across their body, probably not enough to break their thick blubber but enough to hurt extremely badly and cause even more stress on the animals.
And do NOT tell me that all of these problems are normal for wild Orcas as it is for captives just because your vets said so. If Orca experts, people who have spent years researching wild Orca pods and know their differences outside and in, know that the Orcas in captivity are suffering, then they are suffering! Who am I more likely to believe, an actual expert in the field that researches wild Orcas, or a vet who, even if they actually have a good education with the animals, can be completely influenced by bias towards the parks or by money? Orcas are extremely intelligent animals with their brain weighing up to 15 pounds or 6.8kg. If you want a comparison to another intelligent animal look at the Elephant, whose brain can weigh up to only 11 pounds or 5kg and has earned the saying “an Elephant never forgets”. If they never forget what would that make the Orcas then? The Ringling Bros recently just released their Elephants into a sanctuary because of the changing attitudes in their audience. If you wish to save the company then I’d recommend that you’d best do the same. Oh and this applies to all Dolphins and Porpoises in all marine parks, not just Orcas.
PS: This isn’t technically proven, however is consistent to what I know and would be very interesting if proven right. When I talked about stress I talked about the raising of heart rates, blood pressure and breath rates, and recently while reading a book I learned that large animals, like the blue whale, have a slower heart rate. This allows them to live for many years as opposed to small animals with incredibly fast heart rates that only live for a few years at best. With Orcas your website says on Adaptations that on the surface of the water they have 60 beats per minute, while when diving they have 30 beats per minute. Since Orcas can dive to around 100m or 328ft it is expected that wild Orcas have naturally fairly slow heart rates and therefor live longer lives. However captives don’t have the pleasure of diving that deep with your largest tank being only 40ft deep or 12.2 metres deep. Plus most of the Orcas I’ve seen in your care float listlessly on the surface, proven by their collapsed dorsal fins which is only seen in sick and injured Orca in the wild. This means their heart rates are bound to be high. And if you think 60 beats per minute is normal for an Orca then look at a Humans heart rate, which is 60 to 100 beats per minute, and 40 to 60 beats per minute for an athlete. With that I end it, I’ll admit I have no idea what their blood pressure is and I only know that wild Orcas come up to breath every 20 minutes (I’m not sure about captives because they just stay at the surface of the tank, making it hard to tell when they breath), however if a Human athlete is healthier than your Orcas then you are in trouble.