Lolita May Never Go Free. And That Could Be What’s Best For Her, Scientists Say

November 20, 2017

For nearly 25 years, the Miami Seaquarium’s killer whale, Lolita, has been the star of a sequel that has never been made.

In 1995, inspired by the original tale of Keiko, the whale in the 1993 film “Free Willy,” a Washington state governor sought to make Lolita the next captive killer whale returned to the ocean. A fundraising campaign ensued, and soon it seemed that Free Lolita could be the next real-life Free Willy.

Former Gov. Mike Lowry’s vision has since spawned thousands of dollars in donations, several lawsuits and annual protests at the Miami Seaquarium on Aug. 8 — the anniversary of Lolita’s 1970 capture off Puget Sound. Moms with their kids, college students in whale costumes and out-of-state advocates turn up on Virginia Key each year to support the Free Lolita movement.

But often lost in the well-meaning attempts to return Lolita home is one central question: Is freedom really what’s best for her?

The orca, now about 50 years old, remains the last known survivor of the group of more than 50 whales captured 47 years ago. Since her mate died of a brain aneurysm in 1980, she has become the only solitary orca in captivity, where she lives in the smallest killer whale tank in the nation.

As the years have passed, the likelihood of her return to the sea — and her ability to adjust to that change — has become less likely, said Russ Rector, a long-time marine mammal advocate. Lolita’s identity as a living being has been usurped, he said.

“She is just a casualty of captivity and the activists. She has become an icon that quite frankly, nothing has been done for her except a slogan: ‘Free Lolita, Free Lolita,’ ” Rector said. “I’m sure Lolita appreciates that.”

She is just a casualty of captivity and the activists. She has become an icon that quite frankly, nothing been done for her except a slogan: ‘Free Lolita, Free Lolita.’ I’m sure Lolita appreciates that.

Russ Rector, animal activist

In recent years, Lolita’s story has been awash in a tidal wave of public opinion that has crashed against marine parks that house captive animals. Kick-started by the release of “Blackfish,” a 2013 documentary detailing the plight of orcas in captivity, the change in public perception has caused shares of marine theme park company SeaWorld to sink by about 40 percent this year alone. Key to that shift was the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by an orca following a performance at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010. SeaWorld has since announced it would end its breeding program for captive orcas.

The “Free Lolita” movement has outlived even its creator, Lowry, who died in March. But the donations keep piling up, the protests go on, and plans for her release continue to resurface.

Just last month, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and the Miami Beach City Commission unanimously passed a resolution urging the Seaquarium to retire Lolita based on the recommendations of a long-standing retirement plan originally created in 1996 by the nonprofit Tokitae Foundation (Tokitae was given the stage name “Lolita” by the Seaquarium) which later became Orca Conservancy. It involves transferring Lolita to a seaside sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest, in her native home, teaching her to fend for herself, and eventually releasing her back into the wild.

But at this point in her life, Lolita may never get to test her retirement plan. She may never be the sequel.

And that’s probably in her best interest, some experts say.

The Challenge of Release

It was late one night in 1989 when Craig Pelton, then a young whale trainer, snuck into the whale stadium at Miami Seaquarium after it closed and waded into the 50 degree water.

After-hours whale swims were categorically prohibited, so, naturally, the trainers did it from time to time, Pelton said. It was a time before “Blackfish,” before a trainer had been killed by a captive whale, before the “Free Lolita” movement started making waves.

In the water, Pelton watched as Lolita swam over. The orca was in her mid-20s by then, about 20 feet long and 7,000 pounds. A full moon illuminated the stadium below.

Lolita paused and put her pectoral fin under his body — then she snuggled to his side. On Pelton’s other side, Lolita’s tank mate Makani, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, did the same.

“I laid there for about five, 10 minutes, all three [of us] at the surface,” Pelton said. “She was just a sweet animal that was just amazing to work with.”

By the time he left the park in 1991, Pelton said he learned how limited Lolita’s ability to adjust to new surroundings already had become. Pelton, now an assistant clinical professor at the University of Florida’s veterinary college, recalls the day he started at the Seaquarium, when the park installed a slide-out platform to her tank for performances. Lolita struggled to adjust to the change, Pelton said. . . . . . . 

To read the full article visit the source at Miami Herald.com



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Killer whale ‘Orca’ spotted for first time in Pakistan (VIDEO)

November 20, 2017

To the surprise of marine life experts, a gigantic killer whale was sighted off Churna Island in the Arabian Sea, ARY News reported on Monday.

Fishermen recorded footage of the whale, which is also known as Orca, some kilometers away from Churna. WWF-Pakistan has confirmed sighting of the mammal animal.

Killer whale is the largest member of Dolphin family and it is an apex predator which means that it preys on other animals but no animal preys on it.

While killer whales are generally not considered a threat to human, but they have reportedly killed and injured some people.

Earlier, an independent observer spotted a whale shark, 10 nautical miles from Karachi Harbour. The number of whale sharks has plummeted by 50 percent over the last 75 years in the world.

Visit the source at Daily Pakistan.com to view the VIDEO of the encounter

Tenerife marine park loses court battle over orca welfare

November 13, 2017

Tenerife’s Loro Parque has lost a defamation battle against an animal rights charity over treatment of orcas at the marine park.

A Spanish court has thrown out a defamation lawsuit bought against PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – in which Loro Parque sought €100,000 in damages.

The case was brought after PETA published photographs in 2015 showing the killer whales covered with scars and wounds, which it said had come from the animals being kept in too close proximity to each other.

Other images showed severe dental trauma, which PETA says captive orcas typically develop from gnawing on tank gates and walls. Another (above) showed an orca with a collapsed dorsal fin, which PETA says is the result of having inadequate space to swim and dive.

Dismissing the case, the judge ruled that PETA’s views, which are based on expert analysis and research, were protected under Spanish laws on freedom of expression. The judge ordered Loro Parque to pay undisclosed legal fees.

“To say that orcas are suffering in Loro Parque’s dismal tanks is accurate, not defamatory,” said PETA director Elisa Allen. “PETA is calling on the marine park to stop trying to conceal these animals’ suffering and start moving them to coastal sanctuaries.”

This year, France and California announced bans on orca breeding and countries such as Chile, Costa Rica, and Croatia have banned keeping cetaceans in captivity, while others – including Brazil, India, Nicaragua, and Norway – have highly restrictive standards that make the practice nearly impossible.

The last dolphinarium in the UK closed more than 20 years ago, but many tour operators are still selling tickets to overseas marine parks.

Source: ttg media.com

Stranded orca whale successfully re-floated in Marlborough

November 13, 2017

A stranded orca whale has been successfully re-floated in Marlborough.

Dozens of people, including 25 Army personnel, assisted in helping the whale on Marfells Beach, south of Blenheim.

The Department of Conservation and Project Jonah also pitched in, using specially designed pontoons.

The orca is now swimming freely in deeper water.

Earlier, the Army, including 25 soldiers from New Zealand, Canada, America and Australia on a multi-national exercise in the region, started digging deep trenches in the ocean in a bid to refloat the young male orca.

World-renowned marine biologist and orca researcher Ingrid Visser had also headed south to help with the rescue operation.

The next opportunity to refloat the 6m-long orca was at 2pm on high tide.

A plane has also gone up this morning to search for a pod of orca seen in the area last night.

Grover said this was good news for the stricken mammal as it meant its family was close by and was waiting for it to be reunited.

He said the orca had survived the night thanks to the efforts of Department of Conservation staff, volunteers and locals.

But there was now no need for further volunteers with plenty of Army reinforcements and marine specialists on hand to care of the orca.

The Army had been on had since first light digging a trench to help with the refloat.

Dozens of volunteers including the Department of Conservation and medics from Project Jonah tended to the stricken mammal yesterday, wrapping it in damp cloth and keeping it as comfortable as possible between tides.

Project Jonah said volunteers had worked tirelessly through the night keeping the stranded orca cool, calm and comfortable.

Whale-Rescue.org said the Department of Conservation had requested Visser and her specialist team to help with the rescue of the stranded sub-adult male orca due to their previous experience.

Thanks to fantastic efforts from marine mammal medics overnight the Orca had remained calm and rested.

Attempts to refloat the stranded whale on the high tide yesterday were twice unsuccessful.

Sources: NZ Herald.co.nz