Tag Archives: Lolita

Is the captive Southern Resident orca Lolita dying?

Miami 6 February 2022 – PETA has just learned from confidential sources of egregious developments and animal failings at the Miami Seaquarium. Beloved Lolita the orca—whose small, shallow, barren concrete tank has been closed to the public for months—is reportedly suffering from pneumonia and is in danger of not receiving adequate care. The current attending veterinarian, Shelby Loos, reportedly possessed no orca experience when she was hired in 2019. She left in 2020 but was rehired last year after the Seaquarium fired its longtime head veterinarian after she expressed concern about the extent of animal suffering at the park.

“Lolita has suffered for five decades in this despicable animal prison, and if she has pneumonia, that greatly increases the risk of dying she faces in this inadequate facility,” says PETA Foundation Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman. “PETA is calling on the Seaquarium to shut down before any more sentient beings suffer and die in its tiny tanks.”

The whistleblowers also shared with PETA horrific photographs of Abaco, a 19-year-old dolphin who drowned after his rostrum became entangled in a net separating two pools and, as his necropsy revealed, had also incurred injuries from being attacked by incompatible dolphins. Abaco was one of six animals who died at the Seaquarium in 2019 and 2020, all from trauma-related causes—including to the head and neck with hemorrhaging.

In September, PETA obtained a damning 17-page federal inspection report revealing a slew of animal welfare violations at the Seaquarium, including that it had failed to provide Lolita and several other animals with sufficient shade, leaving them in direct sunlight, which can cause painful damage to their eyes. This is the first time the USDA cited the facility for insufficient shade, even though PETA has been raising the issue for years. Lolita has been held alone there for more than 40 years. She displays repetitive and abnormal behavior, which, according to marine mammal experts, indicates severe psychological trauma. The Seaquarium is currently under further investigation by the USDA.

From Peta’s media release

The “Unlawful Cetacean Captivity” Bill Makes Sense for Washington, Please Call and Let Senator Pearson Know Your Opinion

Risso's dolphin with Milton Santini, who caught the dolphins used in Flipper.
Risso’s dolphin with Milton Santini, who caught the dolphins used in the TV series, Flipper.

If you have ever dreamed of having your own dolphin or whale, you can still do it legally in Washington State – but you better hurry!  The permitting process takes a while, and the state government is now considering a bill that will close the loophole in Federal regulations that lets anyone who meets basic requirements keep their own dolphins.
The good news is that this Unlawful Cetacean Captivity bill (HB 2888) will not only prevent people from trying to keep a pet dolphin, it will also prevent roadside attractions and hotels from keeping dolphins and whales (collectively known as ‘cetaceans) too. [Please call Senator Pearson,  360.786.7676 and express your opinion by January 25th].
Kshamenk is not a SeaWorld whale, but his circumstance shows what ca
Kshamenk is an a whale in Argentina, but his circumstance shows what can happen without strong laws.

An unfortunate aspect of those privately owned dolphin exhibits is that they can be sold to anyone, anywhere. For instance both Miami Seaquarium (which has the killer whale Lolita, captured in Washington) and Sea Life Park in Hawaii are owned by a company in Spain, Parques Renunidos – technically they could ship Lolita or any of the cetaceans off to any of their dozen marine parks, worldwide.
Passing this bill will also make good economic sense for Washington  – it will save the headache and cost of permitting and overseeing the construction and maintenance of captive dolphin facilities, of addressing animal rights concerns, as well as the issue of having the federal government looking over the shoulder of the state to make sure that federal guidelines, as weak as they are, are met.
11998829_1035170856502422_2465932823703617561_n L122
Photo courtesy of the Center for Whale Research.

Washington state is also fully committed to maintaining and improving the enjoyment of wildlife and has successfully balanced the needs of outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, hunters, and fisheries and this bill definitely reflects the state’s willingness to juggle opposing interests.
From Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State January 2015:

“Outdoor recreation markets bridge urban and rural communities. Outdoor recreation provides opportunities for physical exercise, which keeps us healthy. Indeed, the recreation market is unquestionably one of the largest markets in the state for moving income from urban to rural areas and building sustainable jobs in rural Washington State. Most outdoor recreation related expenditures trickle down to local economic sectors. Overall, investment in outdoor recreation infrastructure yields high returns throughout the entire state.”

In part because the state has done a good job in addressing the condition of Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea the abundance of cetaceans has increased to the point that we have gray whales coming close to shore and the stunning humpback whales have visited in increasing numbers. We can easily enjoy them from the shoreline or on whale watching vessels (which is a growing industry that brings economic gain to other businesses as well).

The Center for Whale Research has studied the Southern Resident orcas for almost forty years.
The Center for Whale Research has studied the Southern Resident orcas for almost forty years.

The endangered local population of killer whales has had a baby boom recently, and the state’s management of salmon will help insure that those whales have enough to eat going into the future while still leaving enough for anglers to enjoy.
There are no captive cetaceans in Washington State and there haven’t been for years so there are no negative consequences to any existing business.
Passing this bill is just good sense (and good cents), so please call Senator Pearson (who will decide in the coming days if the bill should go through to the next step in the Senate) and ask him to put the bill through so that the public can make comments.
[Please call Senator Pearson,  360.786.7676 by January 25th].
The bill, HB 2228:

Washington State House of Representatives Office of Program Research BILL ANALYSIS Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee HB 2888
Brief Description: Concerning cetacean captivity.
Sponsors: Representatives Van De Wege, Pettigrew, Stanford, Morris, Kuderer, S. Hunt, Appleton, Peterson, Fitzgibbon, Hurst, Pollet and Farrell.
Brief Summary of Bill Ÿ Ÿ
Creates the Fish and Wildlife Code offense of Unlawful Cetacean Captivity as a gross misdemeanor. Prescribes penalties for an Unlawful Cetacean Captivity violation of $5,000 or imprisonment for not more than 364 days, or both. Hearing Date: 2/2/16 Staff: Rebecca Lewis (786-7339).
Background: Cetaceans are aquatic, marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits, with certain exceptions, the taking of marine mammals in United States waters and by United States citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the United States.
Permits and exemptions allow for incidental takes, scientific research, and for first-time import or capture of wild marine animals for public display. Under state law, it is a natural resource infraction to cause a vessel to approach or be in the path of a southern resident Orca whale (Orca). It is also an infraction to feed an Orca or fail to disengage the transmission of a vessel within 200 yards of an Orca. There are a few exceptions, including: engaging in a treaty Indian or commercial fishing operation that is actively setting, retrieving, or closely tending fishing gear; engaging in rescue of a beached Orca overseen, ––––––––––––––––––––––
This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent. House Bill Analysis – 1 – HB 2888 authorized, or coordinated by a volunteer stranding network; or engaging in an activity permitted by the Department of Fish and Wildlife or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Summary of Bill: The Fish and Wildlife Code offense of Unlawful Cetacean Captivity is created.
The following acts each constitute Unlawful Cetacean Captivity: Ÿ Ÿ Ÿ Ÿ holding a wild-caught or captive-bred cetacean in captivity for performance or entertainment purposes; capturing or importing into the state a wild-caught or captive-bred cetacean with the intention of using the cetacean for performance or entertainment purposes; breeding a cetacean in captivity; or importing, exporting, or collecting semen, other gametes, or embryos of a cetacean for the purpose of artificial insemination.
A person may lawfully hold a cetacean for rehabilitation, rescue or stranding, or research purposes. If possible, a person or entity holding a cetacean for rehabilitation or research purposes must return the cetacean to the wild. If it is not possible to return the cetacean to the wild, the person or entity must hold the cetacean at a location approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service and may not use the cetacean for performance or entertainment purposes.
A violation of Unlawful Cetacean Captivity is a gross misdemeanor and is punishable upon conviction by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by imprisonment of not more than 364 days, or both.
Appropriation: None.

With the Inclusion of Lolita, the Endangered Wild Orca Population is Now 79…But This Video May Surprise You

“The 2005 endangered listing for Southern Resident Killer Whales, a distinct population of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest, excluded captive animals. In 2013, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups petitioned NOAA Fisheries to drop the exclusion so the listing would also include Lolita. In early 2014 NOAA Fisheries proposed to drop the exclusion. Since then the agency has further reviewed scientific evidence and more than 17,000 public comments to arrive at a final decision.”  (NOAA).

While Lolita is now aboard NOAA’s ark, she is no closer to swimming with her wild family members  – which is ironic considering her inclusion just increased the population by one percent, about the same factor as the birth of their latest calf. But then again, had Lolita not been taken in the first place or even returned at a younger age most likely she would have had several calves.

Instead, she fell down a bureaucratic rabbit hole into a tiny tank, where the only people who are concerned for her right to adequate space and companionship seem powerless to help her.

NOAA also seems fairly powerless to help Lolita, according to their recent press conference, but they did an excellent job of presenting the facts and explaining what the endangered species classification can, and cannot, do for Lolita. Their audio news conference was edited for this video, but all the pertinent information is present.

I just wish I could have detected a tone of sympathy for Lolita or regret by NOAA at their powerlessness but to be fair these are very competent individuals reporting in their official capacity.


Bring the Orca “Lolita” Home – Walk a Mile, Lift a Pint and Show Your Support in Seattle

10923313_824359907603397_9199364462504661247_n lolita march

Meet on Saturday January 17th, 1 pm. Alki Beach Park, West Seattle.

Gather at 1:00 p.m. at the Statue of Liberty plaza at Alki Beach Park (intersection of Alki Ave. S.W. and 61st Ave. S.W.). Lots of street parking within a few blocks, but give yourself time to park and walk to the plaza, which is located just west of the Alki BathHouse, in the grassy part of the park. Metro bus #50 stops across the street.  
We will walk approximately one mile at a slow pace on wide, level, paved pedestrian walkway, separated from traffic. The route is fully accessible.  Dogs welcome. 
We will have a simple closing ceremony at the end of the route, and then march across the street to the Celtic Swell, a family-friendly pub, to get out of the weather. Talented Seattle singer/songwriter/guitarist Jim Marcotte will share his original song about Lolita and some other good tunes as we warm up and socialize.  Details can be found on the event page.
For decades, people in Washington state (and worldwide) have been working to get “Lolita” out of captivity and back with her wild family.
Lolita has lived in the Miami Seaquarium for decades in a small pool without companions of her own species for most of the time…yet despite petitions, letters and calls to Congress, as well as weekly demonstrations at the Miami Seaquarium, the Seaquarium remains defiant and the government remains mute.

But this year’s walk may finally draw the attention needed to help the big whale in the tiny tank.
Organizers of the “Miracle March for Lolita” point to the increased awareness of orca captivity raised by the documentary Blackfish as well as challenges to the legality of having an endangered species in such dismal conditions as indication that changes are on the horizon.
It is not as if “Lolita” was given a good home or had an easy adjustment, and those factors play in to the deep anger that people feel about her continued confinement.

Eyewitness Account of the Orca “Lolita’s” Traumatic Arrival at the Amusement Park; Whale’s Name Linked to Miami Marketing

Pat Sykes, a former Miami Seaquarium  show assistant from June 1970 to August 1973, describes the traumatic arrival of the newly captured orca Lolita, and shares how  the whale got that name.  By sharing her experience, Pat gives us an unparalleled view into both the harsh reality of how callously this whale was treated, and how the young whale was linked by a powerful marketing agency to the city of Miami’s ‘subtly sexy’ image.

In Pat’s own words:
“Toki [Lolita] arrived at the Seaquarium in the first week of August 1970.  I was fresh out of high school and was one of 3 women hired to be what they called ,”Aquamaids” or “Show Assistants”.
She [Lolita] had a very hard time. She just barely floated.  The skin on her back cracked and bled from the sun and wind exposure.  She wouldn’t eat   the diet of frozen herring.
At night, she cried.
Just across the way swam Hugo, a beautiful juvenile orca who [had] arrived May 1968.  He was in the pre-fab brand new “whale Bowl”, which was a very big deal. First orca on the East Coast.   He heard her and whistled back.  He would swim around the tank faster and faster and smash rostrum-first into the inverted bubble  plexiglass window .  I told my superiors and the men in maintenance, and got dismissed as [being] a flannel headed 18-year-old.  “Oh he will never break it” “It can’t happen”  .
One night “it” did happen.  Hugo hit that bubble,breaking the front of the plexiglass.  510,000 gallons of refrigerated,chemically treated water rushed over his blowhole, almost drowning him.  The front of his rostrum was jaggedly severed.  Doc White did sew it back on with steel stitches but it never reattached.
Press/publicity in those days was handled out of Hank Meyers office, on Miami Beach. Jane Wrigley had the Miami Seaquarium account.  She heard what happened to Hugo, and referred to Toki as a “screaming Lolita”.”

This video shows that by 1971 “Screaming Lolita” and Hugo were sharing the tank – too small for even one whale – where Lolita lives today.

Hugo was also captured from Washington state. He died in 1980 from a brain aneurysm, the result of repeatedly bashing his head against the walls and windows of the tanks. This is where he was confined until he was moved with “Lolita” to the show pool.

Is there any redeeming value to having “Lolita” live at the Miami Seaquarium? Education? Ambassador? Absolutely not.
In the video below the trainer explains that “Lolita” might eat dolphins in the wild but has not eaten the dolphins in her tank…which is so wrong. “Lolita’s” type eat salmon and other fish, not marine mammals. (The trainer explains “Lolita’s” diet around the three minute mark).
The more people who turn up at the walk in Seattle, the louder the message – what the Miami Seaquarium took from the region was wrong, and keeping her is worse.

Lolita the Orca – Caught, Bought, and Betrayed by the Hertz Family

  •  Lolita was captured from the wild population of endangered Southern Resident orcas, where her mother and extended family still swim in the Salish Sea.
  • If the sale goes through before she can be legally protected, she could wind up anywhere in the world.
  • Her new potential buyers are in turn owned by a mega-corporation, based in London, which is invested in offshore oil exploration.
  • Contact the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners and express your thoughts.
  • Comment on Lolita’s exclusion from endangered status by midnight 3/28/14.

Lolita's small pool has no cover and no way to escape the noise.
Lolita’s small pool.

Today’s announcement in the Miami Herald that Miami Seaquarium may be sold to a European conglomerate comes as a shock to those who have been following Lolita the whale’s story for decades.
Lolita is a member of the endangered Southern Resident orcas, and was seen in the film Blackfish as she was brutally caught and taken from her family, then sent to live in a small pool at the Miami Seaquarium. Most of her life has been spent without the company of her own species.
Lolita’s owner, Arthur Hertz, CEO of Wometco.

Now she is being sold before NOAA can rule on whether or not Lolita should be given the protections held by her wild family as part of an endangered population (she was purposely excluded from this designation). While many advocates were aware that the deal was in the works, the timing of the announcement coming on the day the comment period closes for the public to express opinions on whether Lolita should be given enhanced protections seems calculated to limit the backlash.

Owner Wometco Enterprises will close the deal and hand over the park after the Miami-Dade County Commission votes on a resolution approving the purchase, which is expected within a couple of months. The Seaquarium leases the land from the county, paying on a fluctuating scale based partly on revenues. In fiscal year 2012-13, the company paid $2.1 million. The lease runs through 2031.
The Seaquarium’s president and general manager, Andrew Hertz, told the Miami Herald on Thursday that talks with the buyer had been underway for more than two years. “We have never offered Miami Seaquarium for sale, period,” said Hertz, whose family owns the park. “In my 18 years here, at least two, three inquiries a year have come in.”
Hertz said Palace Entertainment “came to us and made an offer” that Wometco was willing to consider. He would not disclose terms of the deal.


At first blush it may seem that the financial resources of the purchaser, Palace Entertainment, will help provide Lolita with a better situation than her current cramped conditions. But what will this really mean for Lolita?
(Courtesy Orca Network)
(Courtesy Orca Network)
“We don’t expect the change in ownership to change anything for Lolita”, said Orca Network’s Howard Garrett “She’ll continue to be exploited for entertainment revenues while her attorneys will continue to argue for her protection as a member of her family under the Endangered Species Act, and for her return to the waters where she was born and raised to be a Southern Resident orca.”


The Hertz family seems to feel that the public is as indifferent to Lolita’s future welfare as are they. In 2012, Andrew Hertz remarked to the Miami Herald:
Hertz“Lolita has been part of the Miami Seaquarium family for more than 42 years, and is as active and healthy as ever,” Andrew Hertz told the Herald in 2012. “Lolita will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium.”  Arthur Hertz said Tuesday the activists’ objections “are still going on,” but their demands that visitors boycott the Seaquarium had no effect.“The public doesn’t care.” Read more here


If the sale goes through before NOAA reaches a decision on Lolita’s status as an endangered species, she could wind up anywhere. Palace Entertainment owns many amusement parks in the U.S., and has ties worldwide through their parent companies. They will have the financial leverage to do whatever they wish – move Lolita away, build a huge lagoon and force her to live with incompatible animals, or do nothing. Andrew Hertz essentially grew up with Lolita in his life, and I believe the Hertz family will try to safeguard her future…but good luck in standing up to a powerful conglomerate that is not American, and obviously not terribly concerned about the environment.

It is hard to consider, but if she is placed with incompatible whales she would likely wind up with the broken teeth, rake marks, and miserable lifestyle of other captive orcas who are moved from place to place with little consideration.
Even harder to understand is that the Hertz family would choose this option for her rather than give her a chance to live in a sea pen, or to rejoin her family in the wild.
But that’s entertainment.

 Palace Entertainment is the largest family amusement and waterpark operator in the U.S. with 32 parks and over 10 million visitors annually. Palace Entertainment waterparks include; Wet ‘N Wild in Greensboro NC, Raging Waters in San Dimas and San Jose CA, Splish Splash in Riverhead NY, Big Kahuna’s in Destin FL, Water Country in Portsmouth NH, Mountain Creek in Vernon NJ and Wild Waters in Ocala FL. Palace Entertainment also owns Boomers, Castle Park, Silver Springs, Malibu Grand Prix, Mountasia, and Speedzone family entertainment parks in CA, TX, FL, GA, and NY. For more information, visit www.palaceentertainment.com.

(Above, another of Palace Entertainment’s holdings)

But Palace Entertainment is not independent either, it is owned by Parques Reunides which owns the following venues worldwide (as of 2010):

Aqualud (water park), Le Touquet, France
Aquarium of the Lakes (zoo & nature park) Cumbria, UK
Aquópolis (water park), seven centers in Spain
Benalmádena Cable Car, Andalucia, Spain
Big Kahuna’s (water park), Destin, Florida
Blackpool Zoo, Lancashire UK
Bo Sommarland (water park), Bø, Norway
Bobbejaanland, Lichtaart, Belgium
Boomers (family entertainment centers), Locations throughout California, Florida, New York, USA
Bonbon-Land, Holme-Olstrup, Denmark
Bournemouth Oceanarium, Bournemouth UK
Castle Park, Riverside, Calif.
Delfinario Costa Daurada, (zoo & nature park), Spain
Faunia (zoo & nature park), Madrid
Idlewild, East Ligonier, Pennsylvania
Kennywood, East Ligonier, Pennsylvania
L’Oceanogràfic (zoo & nature park), Valencia, Spain
Lake Compounce, Bristol, Connecticut
Madrid Cable Car, Spain
Malibu (family entertainment center), Norcross, Georgia; Redwood City, Calif.; and Houston, USA
Aquarium Mar del Plata, Argentina
Marineland, Antibes, France
Mirabilandia, Ravenna, Italy
Mountain Creek (water park), Vernon, New Jersey
Mountasia (family entertainment center) Marietta, Georgia and Dallas, USA
MoviePark, Bottrop-Kirchhellen, Germany
Parque de Atracciones, Madrid
Parque Warner, Madrid
Raging Waters (water park), Sacramento, San Jose and San Dimas, Calif.
Sandcastle (water park), West Homestead, Pennsylvania
Sea Life Park Hawaii (zoo & nature park), Oahu, Hawaii
Selwo Aventura (zoo & nature park), Estepona, Spain
Selwo Marina (zoo & nature park), Estepona, Spain
Silver Springs (zoo & nature park), Florida, USA
SpeedZone (family entertainment center), Los Angeles and Dallas
Splish Splash (water park), Riverhead, New York
Story Land, Glen, New Hampshire
TusenFryd, Vinterbro, Norway
Water Country (water park), Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Wild Waters (water park), Silver Spring, Florida
Wet ‘n Wild (water park) Greensboro, North Carolina and Orlando
Zoo Aquarium de Madrid, Spain
Parques Reunidos is in turn owned by London-based Arle Capital Partners, whose over two billion dollar company focuses on “major energy players” (oil etc) as can be seen in this graphic from their website.


“Arle Capital Partners is an international private equity manager whose focus is on investing in businesses along the Energy & Natural Resources supply chain.

Our aim is to create market-leading businesses which are attractive to the major energy players.

Arle’s partnership model and extensive industry network enables the firm to source proprietary deals and deploy its expertise with each investment.”

 What can be done?  At this point, the best option is to contact the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners and express your thoughts, and watch for online petitions.  I will update this article when more information is available.

Miami Seaquarium and SeaWorld Celebrations Seem Inappropriate – It is Time to Retire Flipper and Shamu

snf05dol4-682_882318a ric o barry msq flipperSeaWorld is not alone in celebrating 50 years of using whales and dolphins as circus entertainment this year. Miami Seaquarium, the original film location of the popular TV series “Flipper,” is planning a year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the television program’s first broadcast, which actually featured 5 female dolphins in the role of Flipper.

Watching from the sidelines will be “Lolita”, the lonely wild-caught killer whale who lives alone with two dolphins as companions in the family run Miami Seaquarium.

“Miami Seaquarium is very proud of its association with ‘Flipper,’ the TV series, which is a classic among TV fans throughout the world,” said Andrew Hertz, president and general manager at Miami Seaquarium.

“This TV series forever changed our awareness of marine mammals and how we interact with them.  Our goal is to commemorate this momentous anniversary with a year-long celebration with special events, community initiatives and park activities.”

Activist Ric O’Barry found the series momentous as well as he caught and trained the dolphins for the Flipper show, then watched as one died in his arms. It changed the trajectory of his life. (The video clip below is from the Academy Award winning documentary “The Cove“).

The Miami Seaquarium is calling their event “A Year Full of Wonder,” and plans the following:

  • New Flipper Dolphin Show –The new Caribbean themed show, with a new set, music and behaviors will let everyone know what Flipper has been up to in recent years.  While the show demonstrates that Flipper’s surroundings may have changed, his core commitment to helping out when there is a need has not.
    New Flipper Splash Area –In the summer of 2014, the park will unveil a new water play area, located near the Flipper Stadium, designed especially for toddlers.
    “Flip it Forward, South Florida – What is “Flip it Forward?” In the popular TV show Flipper frequently “saved the day” by helping his human companions.
    The park will be encouraging everyone to ‘Flip It Forward’ through random acts of kindness. www.miamiseaquarium.com/flipitforward  provides details on how everyone can get involved in making South Florida a more caring community.

“Flip it Forward” ? I can imagine that activists will have a field day with that one, it is way too close to “Flip it Off”. ‘Random acts of kindness’ is a laudable goal – the world can use more kindness, including kindness to animals such as the parade of dolphins forced to play the part of the imaginary dolphin ‘Flipper’, or the orca “Lolita” who has lived there for nearly the entire time in a tiny tank:

SeaWorld is calling its event “Sea of Surprises” and has gotten a ‘sea of surprises’ as a tidal wave of public sentiment has turned against the confinement and treatment of the orcas in their care, as revealed in the film “Blackfish“.  My guess is that the Miami Seaquarium will have a ‘year full of wonder’ as they wonder why they thought the public would embrace a half century-old business model based on circus-like animal performances.

(Courtesy Orca Network)
Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium now(Courtesy Orca Network)

Save Lolita

2014 – The Blackfish Effect Will Continue; SeaWorld, Sea Life Park, and the Miami Seaquarium Face a Difficult Year

Oceanic Preservation Society

Overall, 2014 is shaping up to be a positive one for whales and dolphins –  there is a shift taking place, and opportunities are there for everyone to make a difference.
sw san antonioDemonstrators at SeaWorld, San Antonio showed up to honor the wishes of six year old orca advocate, Cash.
SeaWorld, Sea Life Park, Miami Seaquarium
Protests will inevitably continue to grow in 2014, and the second annual Empty the Tanks Worldwide Event is set to take place on May 24th 2014 – it promises to be bigger and bolder than last year, reflecting the growing awareness of how captivity in theme parks affects whales and dolphins.
Relics from the past, these institutions will have to start making changes quickly. While they have been able to hide behind arcane and unjust laws in the past, a more savvy public now knows that those laws can be changed. Thanks to the book Death at SeaWorld and the film Blackfish, attendance is dropping as more people become aware of the conditions at these parks and choose not to attend.
Below is a video of Sea Life Park, Hawaii (which shows the offspring of a false killer whale who was captured in the brutal Taiji, Japan dolphin drives). The video unintentionally does a great job of showing how tawdry and tired the place is, unfortunately this is typical of amusement parks worldwide. The second one was made after numerous complaints about that amusement park surfaced.

Efforts to remove “Lolita” from her tiny tank at the Miami Seaquarium and to move her to a sea pen near her wild family are gaining momentum. Her violent capture was shown in Blackfish.

(Orca Network)
(Orca Network)

Ocean Noise
This issue is rapidly becoming more topical as more reports of beached, stranded, injured, and dead marine animals are witness to the devastating effects of loud noise.

On land animals and humans alike know to move away from a loud or traumatic sound; the further we get, the more the sound dissipates. Underwater, we would not be so lucky. Sonar and ship noise can send a deafening tidal wave of noise for miles. It is difficult to pinpoint the origin or source of a particular sound and even harder to avoid or outrun it. Whales, dolphins and other marine mammals that have been caught in the wake of sonar have died of cerebral hemorrhaging or intentionally beached themselves in a desperate attempt to avoid the ear-splitting resonance. (Oceanic Preservation Society)

The Oceanic Preservation Society is one to watch this year, they are the group that produced The Covean Oscar winning documentary that exposed the annual dolphin drives in Taiji, Japan. They are working on a new film, and it promises to be innovative and motivating:

Watch for increased attention on sound issues and cetacean stranding in the coming year.

Senseless killing of marine mammals
People worldwide are increasingly aware of the dangers in eating the toxic meat from marine mammals, and are beginning to understand that these top predators play a vital role in ocean food webs. The Dolphin Project is increasing their efforts to reach the Japanese people and are bringing a concert to Tokyo this year, stay tuned for that one.
6098366_300 ric logoHelene Hesselager O´Barry, Program Associate, Dolphin Project
Earth Island Institute writes:

Jane Goodall, who has dedicated her life to the study and protection of chimpanzees, once said, “Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.”  These are wise words.
Unfortunately, there are times when such an approach isn’t possible, as some people are utterly unwilling to listen to the views of those who disagree with them.  An example of this is the dolphin hunters of Japan who slaughter dolphins by the hundreds each year.  They consistently react to any criticism with hostility and do all they can to cover up their actions, trying to prevent the Japanese public from learning that a dolphin slaughter is taking place in their own country.  Communicating with Japanese dolphin hunters, therefore, is not an option, although Earth Island continues to reach out to the Taiji town government and others in a continuing attempt to open up lines of communication.  One way of stopping the dolphin slaughter is by exposing it to the Japanese public so that they can speak out against it.
In the Faroe Islands, where hunters kill long-finned pilot whales in a slaughter known there as grindadráp, we are dealing with a quite different scenario.  Everyone there knows about the slaughter, which has been going on for centuries.  Faroese whale hunters do not try to hide it from the rest of the world.  They are extremely approachable and willing to talk to outsiders about it.  During my visits to these islands, I have always been met with hospitality, even by whalers who knew that I was there to write about the pilot whale slaughter that attracts criticism from all over the world.  As long as someone approaches them in a peaceful manner, they will listen to an outsider´s point of view.

There are dozens of quality organizations working to bring change who would love to have you join – or you can think about what you can do on your own as we welcome 2014. For instance Empty the Tanks protests are organized in communities far from an ocean, where people come together to discuss films, books, ideas, and make action plans. Search out online communities in social media, new voices are always welcome.
Have a great New Year!

SeaWorld, Russia, plus China Equals a Captive Dolphin and Whale Disaster

Will some of the recently captured orcas wind up in China?

Orca captures result in the injury, death, and disruption of wild pods
Orca captures result in the injury, death, and disruption of wild pods (captured for Miami Seaquarium, please see below).

SeaWorld, while  claiming that their killer whale shows are an exemplary blend of education and entertainment, has inadvertently managed to teach us that whales don’t belong in captivity, yet simultaneously they have also taught other countries – including countries such as China that have little respect for animal life – that there are huge profits to be had at the animals’ expense.
According to an article by Tim Zimmermann, A Surge In Wild Orca Capture for Killer Whale ShowsRussia’s recent capture of 10 wild orcas may result in some of them going to aquariums in China:

“It seems like China is becoming, or has become, a primary source of the demand for belugas, dolphins, and orcas alike,” says Courtney Vail, Campaigns and Programs Manager for Whale And Dolphin Conservation, which helps sponsor Hoyt’s and FEROP’s work. “Chinese facilities also source from the Taiji dolphin hunts. Twenty-four dolphins were exported from Japan to China in 2012, and CITES trade reports suggest over 60 wild-caught belugas were exported from Russia to China between 2008 and 2010 alone.”

The thought of orcas in Chinese hands is particularly onerous, as that country has no laws to protect animals from cruelty and abuse.  That fact, coupled with deeply held superstitious beliefs by large segments of the Chinese population means that animals in that country suffer on all levels – the fur trade, scientific research, medicine, dietary preferences, and amusement. Dogs are baked and boiled alive (thought to taste better), other animals are skinned alive for fur, then sprayed with water to keep them moist until killed for food. Bears are cut to produce bile for Chinese Medicine. (A simple google search will show you more than you want to know on animal cruelty in China.)
Live animals sealed in plastic for key chains, which will be discarded when the animal finally suffocates.
An orca in a Chinese aquarium may receive better care than most animals there are entitled to, due to the whales’ high price tag as well as to the standards set by other aquariums. In order to belong to an accredited organization, any aquarium or theme park must care for animals by certain minimum standards – but when you think about it, even in the U.S. amusement parks such as the Miami Seaquarium are able to dodge the minimum standards as set by law as well as by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. In the photo of Miami Seaquarium below, one lone orca has been forced to live in a tank that is substandard in size for over 40 years. (Freelolita.org). As far as I am aware, there are no aquariums on mainland China that are even accredited at this point anyway (there are two in Hong Kong which is independently governed).

(Courtesy Orca Network)
Captured as a calf, pictured at the top. (Courtesy Orca Network)

Zimmermann points out that we can help stem the flow of wild orcas into captivity by refusing to visit the amusement parks entirely.

But as the Russian Far East threatens to become the next wild orca gold rush, tapping into a remote orca population that until now has mostly been left alone, [Researcher Erich Hoyt] sees only one way the wild orca hunts will truly stop. “A lot depends on how many people per year pay to get into SeaWorld in the U.S., as well as paying to get into the growing number of such facilities in China, Japan and Russia,” he says. “By last count, more than 120 facilities in these countries exhibit whales and/or dolphins.

In Will SeaWorld tank after expose in ‘Blackfish’?  Commentary: Stock sinks as documentary makes a big splash, the author points out the decline in SeaWorld’s stock value, and explains that as a highly leveraged company, SeaWorld may be facing some tough times ahead, due to increased public awareness resulting in part from the documentary film, Blackfish.

Shares of Orlando, Fla.-based SeaWorld (SEAS -0.58%)  have been sinking with the gradual release of this independent documentary, and are now down about 25% from highs reached earlier in the year.

SeaWorld needs to survive this debacle, I personally take no joy in the prospect of them having to close their doors because they are uniquely poised to do immense good for whales and dolphins needing our help. But if instead they choose to move their whales offshore (as they have in Loro Parque, Spain), and to support amusement parks in countries that have few regulations, then they deserve to go down in history as a truly amoral and exploitative organization.

Retired Circus Elephant’s Story Will Warm Your Heart – Don’t Captive Whales Deserve This?

Two elephants, separated for 20 years, were reunited at an elephant sanctuary, and their joy in being together again is unmistakable.

The elephant handler’s emotional farewell to his charge is something anyone who has had to let go of an animal can relate to – we grieve our loss while embracing the knowledge that we have done what is right for another being. Whether it is releasing something once caged to the wild, or having to put our companion animals to sleep, we understand that there comes a point when holding on is not in the best interest of these beings who share our lives.
Remarkably similar to elephants in many ways, killer whales in captivity spend their lives endlessly performing repetitive tricks for our amusement, and similarly deserve retirement – yet they must perform until the day they die.
One particular whale has lived for decades with no companion of her own species in a tiny pool. The name given to her by the Miami Seaquarium where she lives is “Lolita”, the performing circus whale. Would she too recognize her family if reunited with them? Ken Balcomb of The Center for Whale Research believes so, and in any case he feels that it is an important question to explore.

It must be hard for the family who believe they own the whale to consider giving her up, but they might be surprised to discover that doing so may be one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives. We really don’t know how deeply captive whales and dolphins bond with the people who care for them, but if it is similar to elephants and other wild animals, then there is a good chance that Lolita would remember those who treated her kindly if she were retired.

Was the following a coincidence? We still know so little about animal perceptions that it is impossible to say with certainty, but it is remarkable:

Saying Goodbye: Elephants Hold Apparent Vigil To Mourn Their Human Friend
Lawrence Anthony was a conservationist and author known as “The Elephant Whisperer” who passed away on March 2nd, 2012. In 1999, Anthony rescued and rehabilitated a group of wild South African elephants who were deemed dangerous. And the animals appear to remember what he did for them: when Anthony passed away, a group of elephants visited his house in the South African KwaZulu for a two-day vigil, according to his family.
When Anthony died of a heart attack, the elephants, who were grazing miles away in different parts of the park, travelled over 12 hours to reach his house. According to his son Jason, both herds arrived shortly after Anthony’s death. They hadn’t visited the compound where Anthony lived for a year and a half, but Jason says “in coming up there on that day of all days, we certainly believe that they had sensed it”.

We will never know how a retired orca will react until we try, but we owe to the whales, and to ourselves, to try. Urge NMFS To Rectify Exclusion of Lolita from the ESA and bring Lolita home!

Deadline Looms for Captive Orca Whale; You Can Help Lolita, the Fisheries Service is Listening Until 6/28/13

“We just had the most amazing trip … L25, Ocean Sun, scared a fish out from under the boat and teamed up with L41, Mega, to take it down”.  SpringTide Whale Tours
On June 18th, the Victoria, B.C. SpringTide Whale Tours reported watching Ocean Sun (L 25) the mother of the captive orca Lolita, catch fish with her companion, Mega (L 41).  It must have been thrilling, yet whenever Ocean Sun is seen, thoughts inevitably turn to the circumstances of her daughter’s capture and subsequent confinement at Miami Seaquarium.
You can help in the effort to improve her life by making a comment as to why this whale should have the same endangered species status as the rest of her family.  Please comment to the National Marine Fisheries Service site by June 28th (information is below). It has taken a long time to get this far (I wrote about it back in February of 2010 Captive L Pod Orca is Caught in a Legal Quagmire), please don’t let the opportunity pass!

(Courtesy Orca Network)
(Courtesy of Orca Network)

(More background information from the National Fisheries Service on Lolita can be found HERE.)

Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Lolita's mother, Ocean Sun, has the distinctive open 'saddle' behind her dorsal fin. Photo by Dave Ellifrit,courtesy the Center for Whale Research
Lolita’s mother, Ocean Sun, has the distinctive open patch behind her dorsal fin. Photo by Dave Ellifrit,courtesy the Center for Whale Research

The petition addressed by this notice describes Lolita, a female killer whale captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, who currently resides at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida, as the only remaining member of the Southern Residents alive in captivity. The petitioners present biological information about Lolita’s genetic heritage and contend that Lolita is a member of the endangered Southern Resident DPS and should be included under the ESA listing. In addition, they provide a legal argument regarding the applicability of the ESA to captive members of endangered species. The petition also includes information about how each of the five section 4(a)(1) factors applies with respect to Lolita. Lastly, the petitioners contend that including Lolita in the ESA listing will contribute to conservation of the wild Southern Resident killer whale population.
Please make comments by June 28th at the Federal site!