THE BLOG
06/12/2013 02:34 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

Lolita: a Lonely Life at the Miami Seaquarium

In the notorious 1970 Penn Cove round up in Puget Sound, Washington, seven wild orcas were kidnapped from the seas to become entertainment draws at aquatic theme parks. Lolita was one of these orcas. Four calves and one adult female died in the horrific event, making twelve orcas in total torn from their family group or "pod." Public uproar was such that roundups like this are now illegal in Washington State. For nearly 43 years since then, Lolita has lived in a tiny tank at the Miami Seaquarium -- the smallest orca tank in North America. In fact, this tank is so small it does not even meet the minimum guidelines set by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

The national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is currently engaged in a number of different legal actions to free her (learn more at ALDF.org/Lolita). In April, we learned that the National Marine Fisheries Service is considering our joint petition (with PETA and the Orca Network) to provide Lolita with the same protections under the Endangered Species Act that apply to wild members of her pod. This would mean the substandard conditions she endures in captivity would violate the Endangered Species Act -- a law which allows citizens like you and me to hold corporations like the Miami Seaquarium accountable.

Many of us grew up familiar with the thrill of visiting exotic animals in captivity -- in zoos and theme parks. How incredible to come so close to beautiful, intelligent animals like lions, tigers, bears and orcas like Lolita. That desire is human and comes from a place of curiosity, compassion and affection for animals. And yet, for many of us, there came a moment when we realized the inherent cruelties of captivity, and how our interest in coming close to wild animals is linked with a life of suffering. In particular, for a massive and incredibly intelligent animal like Lolita, kept in a pathetically small tank without an orca companion for over thirty years, the suffering is obvious -- and immense.

In the wild, Lolita, like her mother and her pod, would naturally swim up to 100 miles per day and reach top speed of 30mph at great depths. Instead, she must swim endless, slow circles in a shallow tank -- what is for her essentially a bathtub -- with no protection from the overwhelming heat of the Miami sun, as mandated by the Animal Welfare Act.

Orcas stay with their family pod for their entire lives, and females like Lolita's mother can live up to 80 years. Yet in captivity, Lolita has no orca companionship. She has been alone for nearly 33 years. Additionally, on signs posted in and around the Miami Seaquarium, the theme park makes claims that Lolita eats "restaurant quality fish," a vague statement that hides the fact that Lolita would never naturally subsist on dead fish, thrown to her as she listlessly hovers in her miniscule tank. Wild orcas travel great distances to find live fish. Similarly, the Seaquarium claims audiences can "see these animals exhibit their natural behaviors." Of course, wild orcas are never ridden by humans and do not perform tricks for spectators. And in no circumstances would Lolita 'naturally' live with white-sided dolphins or lack the company of even a single orca companion.

The misleading signs at the Miami Seaquarium also claim that Lolita's captivity enhances our understanding and appreciation of orcas -- and improves her well-being. The truth is that performing tricks in small enclosures has been shown to lead to a severe decrease in Lolita's physical and mental well-being. No educational information useful or applicable to understanding wild orcas has come from her captivity. What we have confirmed is that orcas suffer tremendously in captivity

Lolita's captivity does not benefit conservation efforts. She was kidnapped from a pod so depleted by capture that it is now covered by the Endangered Species Act. Miami Seaquarium's misleading statements confuse the public and harm orcas.

That is why ALDF is taking legal action in this matter. In particular, we urge anyone who has been to the Miami Seaquarium, and has been misled by such statements about Lolita's life there, to consider joining the Animal Legal Defense Fund in fighting for her freedom, by contacting us at legalcase@aldf.org.

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