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 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
“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:
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.
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.
SeaWorld 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.
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.
Demonstrators 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.
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 Cove, an 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:
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.
Helene 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!
Will some of the recently captured orcas wind up in China?
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 Shows, Russia’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).
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.
“1,742 Comments Received”. At 6:20 a.m. on June 26th there were just 367 comments on whether on not the government should consider the right of the captive Southern Resident orca, Lolita, to be listed as endangered as is the rest of her family. (Read more here). Two days later when the comment period closed, the count was up to 1,742, showing the strong sentiment against keeping these large members of the dolphin family in captivity – but more importantly, illustrating the effectiveness of social media – and it is something we can all do to help.
Social media maven Champions for Cetaceans‘ Kirsten Massebeau was instrumental in sending reminders that the comment period was closing on Lolita’s possible listing as an endangered species and Kirsten, in turn, credits getting a reminder from someone else. Two people made a huge difference for one whale, and this type of sharing is something we each can do.
There is a quiet storm brewing on the horizon – international events will be taking place on July 27th, as part of Empty the Tanks Worldwide where there are opportunities to get involved on every level, from protesting at amusement parks to tweeting your opinion. (There are links to event at the bottom of this article – including the Miami Seaquarium where Lolita is kept).
The brainchild of Seattle area resident Rachel Greenhalgh, the Empty the Tanks Worldwide will take place in 20 cities in nine countries. The events are planned individually, tailored to each location.
If there are no events in your area, one thing you can do is to organize a meet-up with other people in your community who share your views and brainstorm about ways to educate the public on the quality of life experienced by captive whales and dolphins. The thrilling documentary Blackfish about orca aggression in captivity will be released soon in theaters everywhere – arrange a group to go watch the movie then discuss it over dessert or cocktails. Then share what you come up with, and keep sharing. Death at Seaworld is coming out in paperback tomorrow (7/2/13), and would be a terrific choice for a book club. Obtain a wristband and use it to start conversations on captivity with people you encounter everyday – in post offices, grocery stores etc. You can share your experiences/ideas at the Empty the Tanks Worldwide Facebook page.
Below is the list of participating locations for Empty the Tanks Worldwide:
“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!
(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.
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!
This video was recently posted with the alarming title ” Killer Whale Attack (“Lolita” at Miami Seaquarium) ” – but it is not an attack and we don’t know enough about the whale or the circumstances at this point to even determine if it is a threat or play. However the concerned voice in the background warning the public to get away from the pool is very telling…
Please be responsible when circulating this kind of video, and check back here for updates.
For once, words almost escape me – the Miami Seaquarium is clearly stuck in the fifties, and shows an appalling disregard for the values of our modern culture. This routine is akin to chaining up a bald eagle, dressing it in red, white, and blue and teaching it to beg – below even the Miami Seaquarium’s already low standards. This member of the endangered Southern Resident orcas deserves a dignified retirement in her home waters.
Lolita is a solitary orca who has been confined to a tiny concrete tank at the Miami Seaquarium for more than 40 years. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides members of the wild Southern Resident orca population and other endangered animals with a host of protections, including protection against being harmed or harassed. Yet, despite being a member of the Southern Residents, Lolita has been denied all of these protections without any explanation by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
Sign ALDF’s petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service, urging them to include captive members of Lolita’s Southern Resident pod in ESA protections.