New effort to bring ‘Lolita the killer whale’ back to Northwest from Miami Seaquarium

March 12, 2018

The Lummi Nation is making a serious effort to return Tokitae, also known as Lolita the killer whale, back to her ancestral waters of the Northwest.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Lummi Nation will join Florida gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine and the Orca Network to ask the Miami Seaquarium to formally release Tokitae from captivity.

The killer whale was taken from the waters of Penn Cove in 1970 and for the last 47 years, she’s been living in a tank at the Miami Seaquarium.

She was the sole survivor of all the orcas that were captured at that time.

The Lummis believe they have an ancestral and treaty rights to bring Tokitae back to the waters from where she was taken.

The tribe is in negotiations with a landowner on Orcas Island to create a permanent pen in a cove that would separate Tokitae for her safety but still allow her to communicate with other whales.

Lolita has been the focus of movies, documentaries and protests for decades.

The Lummi’s have sent the operators of the Miami Seaquarium three letters asking for a meeting to discuss the sale of Lolita, but have not received a message back.

In a statement, the Seaquarium told WPLG-TV, “Miami Seaquarium has the utmost respect for the Lummi nation…however members of the Lummi business council are not marine mammal experts and are misguided when they offer a proposal that is not in the best interest of Lolita.”

Jewell James of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers is carving a commemorative totem pole that will depart May 9 for a 4,000 mile awareness journey across the western and southern U.S. and ending at the Miami Sequarium.

“We’ll have 565 tribes behind us, a couple hundred environmental groups and churches before we are done,” said James.

He said the Seaquarium has an opportunity to right a wrong.

“Now if they work with us, they’ll become heroes, if they don’t they will lose $1 or $2 billion,” said James.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee will issue an executive order on Wednesday to establish a task force and other measures to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales, which call Washington waters home.

The order will include habitat protection, restoration and Chinook salmon recovery.

The population of whales has declined to its lowest level in 30 years, from 98 in 1995 to 76 today according to the governor’s office.

The Lummi’s hope to add one more.

Source: Komo

Free Lolita! PETA Buys Stock in Miami Seaquarium’s Parent Company

March 6, 2017

Lolita, the solitary orca at the Miami Seaquarium, has spent nearly half a century in captivity. She has been without the companionship of another orca since 1980, when her tankmate, Hugo, died in an apparent suicide by ramming his head repeatedly into the tank wall. Today, following the 37th anniversary of Hugo’s death, PETA has purchased stock in the Miami Seaquarium’s parent company, Parques Reunidos, and will use shareholder opportunities to work to win the orca Lolita’s freedom.

Parques Reunidos is also the parent company of Marineland in Antibes, France, which holds four orcas captive: Wikie, Inouk, Moana, and Keijo. At least 12 others have died there since 1970, including 19-year-old Valentin, who succumbed in 2015 to severe internal injuries, after a storm caused the oxygenation and filtration systems in his tank to stop working, leaving him trapped in a pool of muddy water. Just months earlier, his mother, Freya, also died, decades before the maximum life expectancy of female orcas in the wild.

“Lolita’s extended family is still swimming freely in the ocean, and we want her to be reunited with them,” said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “PETA is calling for all these highly intelligent, social animals to be released into seaside sanctuaries, allowing them to enjoy a more natural life and be rehabilitated for potential release into the ocean, where they belong.”



February 14, 2018

A group of marine researchers and scientists, including Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) marine mammal scientist Dr. Naomi Rose, filed an amicus brief today in defense of Lolita, the lone orca who has languished for over 45 years at the Miami Seaquarium. Specifically, the amicus brief supports a petition for a rehearing at the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which recently affirmed a lower court finding that the substandard conditions under which Lolita is held do not pose a threat of serious harm to her.

In July 2015, a coalition of animal welfare organizations filed a lawsuitagainst the Miami Seaquarium, contending that the facility’s holding of Lolita constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act. In June 2016, a judge dismissed the case, establishing that captive conditions must be “gravely threatening to the survival” of an animal—which the coalition and supporters felt was an erroneous standard. A month later, in July 2016, the coalition filed an appeal of the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

As part of its ruling last month, which affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit, the court of appeals concluded that, although the district court applied an improper standard, the evidence in the case did not support a conclusion that Lolita’s conditions posed a threat of “serious” harm to Lolita. The amicus brief, submitted by Dr. Rose, Dr. Joan Gonzalvo, Kathy Hessler, Dr. Lori Marino, Sandro Mazzariol, Dr. Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Alison Rieser, and the Aquatic Animal Law Initiative of Lewis & Clark Law School, argues that Miami Seaquarium’s conditions do pose a serious threat to Lolita and the rehearing petition should be granted. The main points made in the brief are as follows:

  • The presented evidence of Lolita’s injuries must be viewed holistically. Any one injury or condition might not seem serious, but together the injuries have a cumulative impact and may act synergistically to make things even worse for her.
  • Lolita’s injuries are not isolated and passing incidents, but rather chronic and persistent.
  • Because orcas are highly intelligent and very socially complex, any conditions that cause injury or behavioral abnormalities—including holding a member of a social species alone—must be viewed as much more harmful.

”In May 2015, captive Southern Resident killer whales were recognized as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, which led to the original lawsuit under that statute seeking to help Lolita. AWI hoped that this listing would mean the beginning of the end of her suffering,” stated Dr. Rose. “We were dismayed when the lower court unfairly dismissed the case that sought to remove her from that horrible, tiny tank she languishes in. We hope this amicus brief helps undo that error.”

Click here to view the amicus brief in full.

Source: awi

Bill to ban orca breeding in Florida dies in the Legislature

January 30, 2018

Amid strong lobbying from SeaWorld against it, a bill to ban orca breeding and future captivity in Florida has died in a legislative subcommittee.

The Florida Orca Protection Act aimed to cement into law what SeaWorld voluntarily adopted in 2016 — an end to its killer whale breeding program and a phase-out of performances as public attitudes about whales in captivity have shifted. California easily passed its own version of the law that same year after SeaWorld dropped an initial fight against the crack down.

Advocates say the marine park’s resistance to making its policy legally binding in Florida, home of its global headquarters, suggests its commitment to making this generation of orcas the last in captivity could be short-lived.

“This shouldn’t be a controversial issue because it’s just making law out of what SeaWorld says its corporate policy is,” Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Lindsay Larris said. “There’s no accountability. It should be the lawmakers holding them accountable.”

IN DEPTH REPORT: Advocates push orca breeding law as SeaWorld’s policy appears murky

State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, introduced the bill this legislative session after ALDF’s struggle to find a sponsor last year. Former Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, planned to file the bill in 2016 but changed her mind after meeting with SeaWorld officials, she said.

Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, drafted the bill for this session but decided against filing it after a meeting with SeaWorld officials in December.

SeaWorld spokesman Travis Claytor previously said because the company has already committed to end orca breeding, “the legislation is unneeded and distracts from the great work being done to positively impact Florida’s wildlife.” SeaWorld had three lobbyists registered to advocate against the bill this session, according to House records.

The Florida Attractions Association — of which SeaWorld is a member — the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and Florida Retail Federation also lobbied on the bill.

The Florida Orca Protection Act had been pending in the House of Representative’s Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee but did not make the agenda of bills to be heard Tuesday.

Subcommittee Chair Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, said it did not make the cut because it was introduced in the House without a Senate companion, indicating “there is not a strong will to move this issue this year.”

But there is no House or Senate rule that says only bills with companion measures may be taken up, said Travis Moore, a lobbyist who worked for ALDF on the orca legislation. It’s common for one chamber to move something legislators feel is a priority in order to negotiate policies with the other side, he said.

“It would be helpful and refreshing if SeaWorld cares enough about their own policy to help us instead of working so hard against establishing their own policy as legal public policy,” Moore said. “Their actions are more telling than their words.”

There are 22 captive orcas in the United States — SeaWorld has 10 in San Diego, six in Orlando and five in San Antonio, Texas, parks. The other killer whale in America is wild-born Lolita, brought to Miami Seaquarium in 1970. For decades, Lolita has lived alone in a tank just four times the length of her body.

Along with ending breeding and performing, the Florida bill, like California’s law, would have banned companies from shipping semen from killer whales out of the state.

Larris, the ALDF attorney, said that protection was especially crucial as SeaWorld’s ownership, and potential priorities, shift. Chinese investment firm Zhonghong Zhuoye Group acquired a 21 percent stake in the company in March, becoming the largest shareholder. Two Chinese executives now sit on SeaWorld’s board, one as chairman.

SeaWorld’s attendance is on a steady decline with 9 percent fewer visitors last fall and a 10 percent drop in revenue. Meanwhile, China’s aquarium industry is booming with 55 marine parks today and 27 under way, according to the China Cetacean Alliance.

With uncertainty over the SeaWorld killer whales ahead, Larris said ALDF will continue to advocate for this law to be passed next year. ALDF on Feb. 5 will host a screening for lawmakers in Tallahassee of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which detailed the psychological and physical trauma of captivity and is credited with a massive shift in public attitudes about SeaWorld’s practices.

“If we can’t pass the legislation this session, we want to make sure we educate people as much as possible about the issue,” she said.

Source: Tampa

Captive orca Lolita can stay at Miami aquarium: U.S. appeals court

January 12, 2018

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected efforts by animal rights advocates to force the Miami Seaquarium in Florida to release Lolita, a killer whale it has held in captivity for nearly half a century.

By a 3-0 vote, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami rejected claims by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and others that keeping Lolita in captivity violated the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The evidence, construed in the light most favorable to PETA, does not support the conclusion that the conditions of her captivity pose a threat of serious harm to Lolita,” the court said.

Friday’s decision upheld a lower court ruling. The lawsuit began in July 2015, two months after the National Marine Fisheries Service recognized whales such as Lolita as an endangered species.

PETA said it may appeal, and that the decision ignores current public sentiment about the suffering of captive orcas.

“This ruling sentences this highly intelligent, deeply lonely, and distressed orca to a lifetime of physical and psychological harm, confined to a tiny concrete cell without family, friends, or freedom,” Jared Goodman, director of animal law at the PETA Foundation, said in a statement.

The Seaquarium and its lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lolita, captured in 1970, is roughly 20 feet (6 meters) long and weighs about 8,000 pounds (3.6 tonnes), and has long been one the Seaquarium’s top attractions.

Critics raised 13 objections to her captivity, including the small size of Lolita’s tank, her lack of an orca companion since the death 38 years ago of her tank mate Hugo, stress and injuries caused by the white-sided dolphins she now lives with, and inadequate treatment by Seaquarium personnel.

But the appeals court said accepting critics’ “expansive” conception of illegal harm and harassment could upset the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s regulatory scheme to help ensure the humane treatment of captive animals used for exhibitions and research.

The Seaquarium kept Lolita after SeaWorld Entertainment Inc decided in 2016 to end its orca breeding programs and phase out killer whale shows.

A 2013 documentary, “Blackfish,” had depicted the captivity and exhibition of killer whales as cruel.

The appeals court ruled nine days after Bob Barker, the former host of “The Price Is Right” game show and animal rights advocate, called for Lolita’s release in a video posted on PETA’s Twitter account.


Is Florida ready to retire SeaWorld’s killer whales?

December 1, 2017

When ranking icons of Florida tourism, Shamu the killer whale is right up there with Mickey Mouse and Snooty the manatee (R.I.P. Snooty).

Since opening in 1973, SeaWorld Orlando has attracted hundreds of millions of visitors whose sole vacation mission is to see that orca shoot through the air, wave its flippers and plunge back down into the clear pool, splashing an unsuspecting grandma.

But those days are coming to an end.

Fresh off a legislative win in California, a coalition of animal rights advocates want Florida lawmakers to pass a law ending orca captivity, breeding and transporting. If adopted, the six orcas currently residing at SeaWorld Orlando would be “grandfathered” in. When they die, SeaWorld would be orca-less. The proposed bill also bans theatrical shows by captive orcas.

But will Floridians accept a SeaWorld without Shamu?

On Thursday, at the fourth floor café inside St. Petersburg’s Station House, a growing happy-hour crowd nibbled on vegan treats, imbibing beer and wine and talking orcas.

The event, “Change in the Right Direction: Protecting Florida’s Orcas,” was presented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer turned activist turned author, whom you might recognize from scandal-spawning documentary Blackfish.

Hargrove is probably the last person SeaWorld wanted to become an outspoken critic. He’s charismatic, speaks warmly and intelligently (well, usually) and, most of all, has years of experience working with orcas and management. For more than 10 years, he had one of the coolest jobs in the world, a profession children could only dream about.

At one time, a 6-year-old Hargrove dreamed about it, too, after first visiting SeaWorld Orlando and watching the animals perform in Shamu Stadium.  

“I was completely seduced by the entire environment,” he recalls. “The huge stadium. All the people. I loved the water. I love animals. …I decided then I would become a trainer. And I never went off that path.”

At 20, SeaWorld hired Hargrove as an apprentice at the park’s Texas location. He climbed the ranks to become a senior trainer, eventually transferring to California. He left the company in 2001 and worked with orcas at Marineland in France for a few years. After a five-year hiatus from training, he returned to SeaWorld San Antonio in 2008.

That’s when the dream job became a nightmare.

First, in December 2009, an orca on loan from SeaWorld killed a trainer at zoo in Spain. Then, in February 2010, an orca named Tillikum grabbed trainer Dawn Brancheau by her ponytail and pulled her into the water. As recounted in Blackfish, her death was the third such incident involving that whale.

Hargrove was also beginning to understand the negative effects of captive breeding. Ever since the ban on capturing wild orcas, SeaWorld began using artificial insemination to ensure future generations of Shamu. In addition to the very unnatural process of masturbating a large male whale, catching the sperm and inserting it into a female, Hargrove says the babies are taken from the mothers too early.

“In the early years, you don’t exactly know what’s healthy or not, what’s right or wrong,” he says. “First, it’s questions. Then the questions turn into the realization: This is not right, this is not healthy.”

“It was just destroying these animals,” he continues. “I foolishly thought for a long time I could change it. You get very blinded by that love for the whales. Almost like you’re in a bad relationship. You’re invested in the love and you start to rationalize things away.”

SeaWorld Orlando did not respond to phone calls and e-mails requesting comment; however, past statements deny orca calves are prematurely separated from their mothers. The company has repeatedly denied Hargrove’s allegations of orca mistreatment and has attacked his credibility, including the release of an 8-year-old video showing a drunken Hargrove joking on the phone with a friend and using racial slurs.

“I don’t try to make any type of excuses for it,” he says of the secretly taped video. “Even if SeaWorld wouldn’t have released it and it stayed among friends, it was still wrong.”

Eventually, after years of fighting with management, Hargrove realized SeaWorld did not plan on changing its practices and resigned in 2012. A week later, the producers of Blackfish interviewed him.

SeaWorld always had to defend itself against animal rights groups like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but Blackfish brought the $2 billion corporation to its knees.

Attendance plummeted; stocks nose-dived. The company still hasn’t recovered: Attendance at SeaWorld parks nationwide fell 6 percent in the first nine months of 2017 compared to last year, according to corporate documents. Revenue is down tens of millions of dollars.

A year after the documentary’s release, a Santa Monica assemblyman Richard Bloom introduced the Orca Welfare & Safety Act to end the display and breeding of the animals. The bill initially stalled but the lawmaker tried again last year. After Before it passed by a wide margin, SeaWorld announced the company would voluntarily end the breeding program and phase out performances by 2019 at all of its properties.

So, why is there the need for a law in Florida?

“Laws keep people accountable,” says Lindsay Larris, who oversees legislative affairs for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Policies can change, but laws don’t.”

The Florida law would essentially mirror the one passed in California, Larris says. Problem is, they have not found a legislator to sponsor it.

“Nobody has actually agreed to yet,” admits Larris. “Not because they don’t want to. The only pushback has been their list of priorities.”

Florida state representatives can only file six bills in a session, so finding room for killer whales between tax breaks and educational initiatives can be tricky. (Of course, that has never stopped some legislators from proposing utterly ridiculous laws.)

And as Larris travels across the state talking to stakeholders, she confesses, “Florida is in a very different political climate than California.”

Rep. Thad Altman, a Republican from Indialantic, seemingly withdrew his support for a captive breeding ban over the summer and blamed his staff for erroneously sending a letter backing the bill, Politico reported.

Larris has found allies in the state, though, including state representative Ben Diamond, a Democrat serving St. Petersburg. Before Thursday’s event, she met with the representative to discuss the latest draft of the bill.

“I think it’s an issue that warrants some study and a great deal of thought by our legislature,” Diamond told CL. “I haven’t committed yet to file this bill, but I’m studying it.”

Laws move slowly, he cautions, while expressing optimism about widespread support.

“I don’t view it as a partisan issue,” he says. “This is, in my mind, a public safety issue.”

SeaWorld also has deep pockets and lobbyists at a capitol obsessed with tourism. Larris says she thinks attendance might actually increase if visitors don’t have to feel guilty for visiting the park. That would be good news for visitor bureaus, who hold some clout in the legislature. (Representatives from Visit Florida and Visit Orlando did not return requests for comment.)

Ultimately, the tide of public opinion — what swayed SeaWorld to enact its own policies — will decide the fate of the last generation of orcas.

“I understand why the public wants to see them up close,” says Hargrove. “You see them in a show and you are just in awe. But what people don’t understand is the price they pay for being there.”


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

PETA’s Court Case to Retire Lolita Will Be Heard in Miami in December

October 30, 2017

Lolita the orca has lived in this tank for more than 46 years.

The orca Lolita has swum in countless circles during her residency at Miami Seaquarium. For the past 47 years, she has performed tricks for audiences from within her fish bowl-shaped tank at the marine park, and during this time, her circumstances have remained essentially unchanged.

But though her situation has stayed the same, in the past three years, much has changed behind the scenes. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine recently advocated for her retirement from performingGovernment officials argued this year that her tank might not, after all, be large enough to house her. And she was also recognized as an endangered animal in 2015. This December 6, a three-judge panel in Miami will hear a PETA lawsuit that hinges on the orca’s new protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“We look forward to arguing her case before the appellate court and will continue to push for her to be retired from performing and transferred to a seaside sanctuary in her home waters, from which she was captured more than 47 years ago,” says Jared Goodman, the director of animal law at PETA.

Lolita — or Tokitae, as she is often called by animal rights activists — once lived off the misty coast of Washington state. During the ’60s and ’70s, her pod, or family, in the Pacific Ocean was decimated. Dozens of orca calves were captured and sold to oceanariums across the United States, including the Seaquarium. Lolita was among them. The loss of nearly an entire generation of orcas made it difficult for her pod to bounce back in numbers. Today fewer than 80 southern resident killer whales exist, and they are all endangered.

Endangered animals are afforded an extra array of protections under the ESA, in addition to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). PETA’s lawyers, as well as thousands of animal rights activists, hope Lolita’s fairly recent recognition as an endangered animal will change her living conditions, which a federal court judge in 2016 deemed “less than ideal.”

“The [ESA] prohibits harming and harassing protected animals like Lolita, who is suffering in the Miami Seaquarium’s tiny tank,” Goodman says. Reached for comment, a Seaquarium spokesperson maintained that the marine park has no intention of releasing Lolita and stated she receives ample care from the staff.

Earlier this year, PETA’s legal team argued successfully in court and secured the upcoming December hearing: “With testimony from expert biologists, a veterinarian, and a former orca trainer, we argued that holding Lolita the orca without the company of any others of her kind, with incompatible animals, and in a cramped tank with no protection from the hot sun is a ‘take’ in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.”

In addition to living in the controversial tank, the smallest for an orca in North America, Lolita shares it with Pacific white-sided dolphins rather than another orca. The AWA stipulates that social animals be paired so they can engage with each other. It’s a quandary as to how a court will rule. Orcas are the largest breed of dolphins, but does placing an orca with Pacific white-sided dolphins satisfy the spirit of the AWA? Activists have argued it’s akin to putting a human and a chimpanzee in the same situation; both are great apes but not necessarily socially compatible.

Source: Miami New

Local Commission Votes Unanimously to Free Lolita – Urge Miami Seaquarium to Let Her Go!

We finally have some promising news to share about Lolita, the oldest living orca in captivity. The Miami Beach Commission is now putting pressure on the Miami Seaquarium to release Lolita to a seaside sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest. Truly, this is the least they can do to ensure Lolita can live the rest of her years in peace. The Commission voted unanimously last week in favor of the resolution that urges Lolita be retired to the Orca Network, a non-profit that developed a retirement plan way back in 1995.

Even though the resolution only holds a symbolic significance, as the board does not have any legal power over the Miami Seaquarium, this is still a hopeful step. The plan would take six to eight weeks to transport, rehabilitate, and retire Lolita to the San Juan Islands in Washington State, close to her original home in Puget Sound. Orca Network estimates the process would cost $1.5 million in private sector funding.

The Mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine, is a long-time advocate for moving Lolita to a seaside sanctuary. “Hopefully, in the future, this animal will go on to its family in the Northwest,” he told the Miami Herald. But because Lolita was added to the endangered species listing for the Southern Resident killer whale in 2015, the minimal amount of risk would have to be taken to retire Lolita.

Lolita has lived almost her entire life in what is equivalent of a bathtub, this year marked her 47th year in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium. Activists have been fighting to free Lolita for years, and there have been a number of lawsuits that allege her tank is not up to regulations and it has even been considered that since she is the member of an orca pod listed as endangered, she should be privy to Endangered Species Act regulations that could permit her to return to the wild. Prior lawsuits have been denied.

Not surprisingly, the Miami Seaquarium is against the proposal, stating that the stress upon Lolita could prove fatal. Seems odd that they would all of a sudden care about her well-being after refusing to even expand the size of her tank. Importantly though, the more negative attention brought to the Miami Seaquarium, the more likely they are to retire Lolita to a sanctuary. At the end of the day, they won’t change anything until their bottom line is affected.

Please share this story to show the Miami Seaquarium that the world is watching and that we won’t give up until Lolita is free.

Source: One Green

Miami Seaquarium Leaves Marine Animals in Place During Hurricane Irma

September 11, 2017

Days before Hurricane Irma descended on South Florida, inciting an evacuation of 5.6 million people, the Miami Seaquarium left many of their marine animals at the facility to ride out the stormincluding their Orca whale, Lolita. The whale, surrounded by flimsy tin roof from the stadium surrounding her tank, along with several dolphins, were left in the tank uncovered. The aquarium is particularly vulnerable given their location on Virginia Key, a barrier island off the coast of Miami.

In contrast, dolphins at an aquarium in Cuba were airlifted to safety by helicopter out of Hurricane Irma’s path before it made landfall. In response to an inquiry on why they didn’t transport their animals to safety, The Miami Seaquarium said in a statement, “Miami Seaquarium has been at its present location since 1955 and it has withstood its fair share of storms.  The park has an experienced and dedicated team working diligently to ensure our animals are safe.  In preparation for the possible effects of Hurricane Irma, Miami Seaquarium has implemented its Hurricane Preparation Procedures. These protocols, which are constantly updated, clearly detail the necessary animal safety and precautionary measures to be implemented at the park. You can monitor our social channels for all updates regarding the park.”

Besides closing the park, the Miami Seaquarium provided no updates on their social media channels throughout the storm, nor did they explain what procedures were actually put in place to protect their animals during hurricanes, or clarify whether staff remained on site as Hurricane Irema approached. Reports from Miami have shown downtown Miami submerged by flooding.

“The threats to exposed captive killer whales include missile injuries, blunt force trauma, stress, and foreign objects in the pool, which can be swallowed. In nature the whales can ride out storms, spending their time predominantly below the surface and at greater depths,” said Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, a former SeaWorld trainer who advocates against Orca captivity. “The shallow water columns of captivity force the animals to be exposed.” He cited that he was on site at SeaWorld Orlando during Hurricane Erin, but that SeaWorld’s infrastructure was much safer and more resistant to storms than the dilapidated state of Miami Seaquarium’s structures.

“In the case of Lolita, her stadium could literally collapse, and she’s alone. The Seaquarium was cited in 2003 for a ‘rusty roof beyond repair‘ as well as other issues,” He continued. “If she was lucky enough not to get hit or impaled by collapsing stadium elements, she stands the chance of being sliced by metal in her space. A second concern I have is that the expected storm surge, up to 10 feet, could undermine the structural elements of her tank including the perimeter glass that holds back the water.”  Ventre explained, “If that were to happen, she’d be in dirty foreign-object-filled water trapped in her rickety whale prison with no way to swim to the sea, which is meters away. In the context of the original storm forecast, which predicted a CAT 4 or 5 direct strike on Miami, the Seaquarium’s decision to roll the dice with her life is certainly callous, immoral, and unjust,” he said.

Samantha Berg, another former SeaWorld trainer said in a September 10 post on the blog Voice of the Orcas, “Her tank is not deep enough for her to submerge and find refuge from flying debris. And, in an ironic turn of events, she even faces the potential of drowning if the surface of her tank becomes sufficiently blocked by falling detritus.  Or maybe the filtration system will fail and she’ll have to spend days or weeks floating around in her own excrement.  Her tank may over-heat if the power goes out and this could easily lead to a slower death from disease and injury.” She added the only proper way to prepare for a Hurricane of Irma’s magnitude was by getting the animals out of there.

Orca captivity and the facility’s treatment of Lolita has already been a controversial subject. The whale was captured in 1970 at the age of four. Documents released in 2016 noted the whale often suffers scrapes, and cuts from the dolphins that share her tank. She frequently needs antibiotics to treat these injuries. Environmentalists have been fighting through litigation to have Lolita freed and returned to the Pacific Northwest where she could live out the remainder of her life in a sea pen, but the Miami Seaquarium has pushed back on these efforts, claiming that Lolita has been taken care of in her tank, the smallest one for any orca in North America. The USDA released a report in June 2017 after auditing the aquarium. They found the tank likely does not meet the agency’s Animal Welfare regulations.

The 2013 documentary Blackfish exposed the harmful effects that captivity has on orcas—these animals regularly travel over 60 miles per day in the wild. In addition to health effects, psychological effects have been well documented. SeaWorld is currently under federal investigation for defrauding investors by misrepresenting their business downturn since the documentary’s release. In December 2017, PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Orca Nework will begin their oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to push for Lolita’s release under the endangered species act.

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