Right now, there is a very heated argument over whether or not the orca in the Miami Seaquarium, Lolita, will be released. The Miami Seaquarium is up against many individual animal advocates, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Dolphin Project and a few others. Lolita’s supporters are devoting this weekend to her and will be taking to the streets outside the aquarium this Saturday to oppose the orca’s captivity and raise awareness about her need for a bigger habitat.
For decades, citizens in Washington State and beyond have been working to get Lolita out of the aquarium and back with her wild family. She has lived in the Miami Seaquarium in a relatively small pool without others of her own species to interact with. Despite many petitions and calls to Congress, with additional weekly presentations at the Miami Seaquarium, both of them stand firm and mute on the subject.
The dimensions of Lolita’s pool are 80 feet wide, with 35 feet between the outer rim and the platform in the middle. She is capable of stretching the full depth of the pool by floating vertically. Not only that, but it is illegally too small under the Animal Welfare Act ruling in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards for minimum size.
For the past 45 years, Lolita has spent day after day in this tank, performing for the entertainment of others. She was once wild, with a family of her own, who were known as the popular Southern Residents who lived in the Pacific Northwest. In 1970, she was abducted during the notorious Penn Cove roundups. Since 1980, when her last companion, Hugo, died from a brain aneurysm, the Seaquarium star has been alone. Hugo’s tragedy is widely believed to be a suicide as the aneurysm was caused by repeated blows to the head from him crashing into walls.
Today, Lolita is the only living member of the Southern Residents. Her family was guarded under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. Animal advocacy organizations have tried to extend that same protection to Lolita in the hope to get her into a much needed, much bigger habitat with other orcas.
While Lolita may not ever be able to return to the ocean, the Orca Network has a retirement plan that involves sending her to a gated habitat in her home waters off the Washington coast. There, she would have the chance to experience the ocean and communicate with others of her species.
Lolita still has family in the wild, and the location is known by the Orca Network. They also know that she still speaks the unique language only spoken by her family, the L pod. The end game is to reunite her with her pod, which her mother, L25, is believed to be a part of still. However, if she is unwilling, or unable, the Orca Network has vowed to provide care for her for the remainder of her life.
If her mother is a part of the pod, then there is no question that the pen is where Lolita belongs. With the growing pressure being placed on the Miami Seaquarium, it is possible Lolita, the “world’s loneliest orca,” will be granted what she needs: a bigger, more wide open habitat to flourish with her kin. Time will tell what fate shall befall the gentle creature in these next few months.
Commentary by Matthew Austin Bowers
Photo by Felipe Oduardo Sierra – License