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
After a 14 year delay, the federal government has finally decided to update the standards of care for captive whales and dolphins.
According to the Animal Welfare Institute, the updated standards do very little for the animals – for instance they don’t change the minimum tank size standard.
The current space standards were set over 30 years ago and have no basis in science or even best practices within the captive display industry.
As an example, for up to two orcas, a facility need only provide a circular tank with a diameter twice as wide and a depth half as deep as an average adult orca is long.
This standard does not even allow the animal to position itself fully in the vertical plane (its tail would touch and drag on the bottom before the animal reaches full upright orientation).
The government (USDA) claims to be ignorant of any scientific literature that demonstrates the need that whales and dolphins have for space…yet that information is readily available, and in some cases was even funded by the government. The research shows that orcas travel as much as 120 miles a day, and regularly dive over 500 ft deep.
Having paid for, completed, and published data that show the woeful inadequacies of keeping whales in tanks, why in the world won’t they change the standards?
The recent death of a killer whale with tagging fragments found embedded in his body has forced NOAA to reconsider the invasive methods they were using to find out where the orcas go in the winter. What is the point of harming an endangered species if the government is just going to ignore the data when it comes to helping captive whales?
You can let the government know your thoughts on this issue by using the Animal Welfare Institute’s convenient link, or go directly to the federal page for more detailed information.
What you can do:
If it is on or before May 4th 2016, you can easily submit your comment to the government during their public comment period by clicking here.
Contact your Congressperson at any point!
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].
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.
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 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
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: 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.
Media Release 11/6/15:
Los Angeles, CA – At a press conference on Friday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) announced that he will introduce the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act. This landmark legislation would phase out the captivity of orcas so that their display ends with this generation.
Specifically, it would prohibit the breeding, the taking (wild capture), and the import or export of orcas for the purposes of public display. This legislation will also allow for the orderly phasing out of the display of this species, giving orca-holding facilities time to transition to a more humane future. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), though unable to attend the press conference, is an original co-sponsor of the legislation.
“The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display,” said Rep. Adam Schiff. “We cannot be responsible stewards of our natural environment and propagate messages about the importance of animal welfare when our behaviors do not reflect our principles. The ORCA Act ensures that this will be the last generation of orcas who live in captivity, and we will appreciate these incredible creatures where they belong – in the wild.”
During the press conference, several experts and State Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), the sponsor of previous legislation to ban the use of orcas for performance purposes at California aquatic theme parks, spoke in support of Schiff’s bill.
“The growing body of scientific evidence is compelling for orcas,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “They are simply too large, too wide-ranging, too socially complex, and too intelligent to thrive in any-sized concrete enclosure. Orcas do not belong in captivity.”
“As a former Marine Mammal Trainer at SeaWorld, I saw firsthand how orcas suffer in captivity,” said former marine mammal trainer Samantha Berg. “No amount of toys, larger tanks, better veterinary care or love and attention from their trainers will ever come close to simulating the richness of their lives in the ocean. We cannot meet their needs in captivity.”
“There is no justification for the continued captive display and breeding of orcas for entertainment purposes,” Assemblyman Richard Bloom said. “They belong in their natural habitat where they can travel long distances and feed as predators do. These magnificent creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives. It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement.”
“The failure of our government to adequately protect captive Orcas based on modern science is shameful, and it’s time to phase out the public display of these intelligent, social animals,” Rep. Jared Huffman said. “Orcas belong in the wild.”
The current global population of captive orcas has two sources – wild capture and captive breeding programs. Under current federal law, the federal government can issue permits for the capture or import of orcas for the purposes of public display. This is how, in the past, U.S. display facilities legally acquired orcas from the wild. While a wild capture of an orca has not occurred in U.S. waters since 1976, and wild-caught orcas from other parts of the world have not been imported since 2001, permits can still be issued legally. All other captive orcas have been bred in captivity. These practices would be prohibited under the ORCA Act.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently considering updating decades-old federal regulations for captive marine mammals. However, while updated standards may improve the welfare of smaller, more adaptable marine mammals, no amount of regulation can ensure that orcas thrive while in captivity. Unlike other intelligent animals, there is no indication that the population of captive orcas will see any relief. Recently, Ringling Bros. Circus announced that it will retire its performing elephants, and the National Aquarium announced that it will be retiring its dolphins. No such announcements have been made for the population of captive orcas in the U.S., and in fact, holders of captive orcas are doubling-down on their belief that captivity is not detrimental to the health and well-being of orcas.
Other organizations also came out in support of the ORCA Act, including the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“PETA applauds Rep. Schiff for introducing a bill that reflects public opinion in favor of ending the archaic and cruel practice of keeping orcas in captivity,” said Jared Goodman, Director of Animal Law for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Everyone from children to members of Congress now recognizes that in SeaWorld’s tanks, orcas suffer both physically and psychologically, are drugged, die prematurely, and lash out as a result of extreme frustration. The passage of this bill would mark the beginning of the end of that kind of marine prison in the U.S.”
The proposed legislation can be viewed online here, and a fact sheet about the ORCA Act can be viewed online here.
“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.
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.
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”.”
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.
According to (CNN), “Over three dozen members of Congress want the government to ensure the humane treatment of orca whales and other marine animals in captivity, following an outcry sparked by the documentary “Blackfish.””
“The letter, released Thursday and signed by 37 Democrats and one Republican to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, cites outdated regulations protecting those sea mammals and asserts that the current rules don’t reflect “updated science.””
“Our letter is asking USDA to update regulations for captive marine mammals under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which have not been revised since 2001. In May 2002, USDA proposed to update captive marine mammal standards for indoor facilities, outdoor facilities, water quality, space requirements, and swim-with-the-dolphin (SWLD) programs. During the comment period, USDA received numerous comments recommending changes to tank sizes and otherwise improving facilities for marine mammals. Yet twelve years after the public comment closed, USDA still has not finalized these regulations. Given the public interest in humane treatment of orcas and other marine mammals, especially in light of the death in 2010 of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by the orca Tilikum and the film Blackfish, it is incumbent on USDA to finalize this long-overdue process.”
(The entire letter can be viewed here.)
After nearly a lifetime of watching the captive display industry exert power over and muffle the voices of anyone who tried to bring change to the orcas and other whales and dolphins suffering for entertainment I have been stunned by the changes that are on the horizon for these precious and sentient animals.
The documentary Blackfish, and the dedicated people who have worked tirelessly through the years to support the message that captivity is not viable for these animals, along with the reach of social media have come together to reach the eyes, ears, and hearts of people the world over.
Among those who have come to understand the nature of marine mammal captivity are those who have the power to do something about it, and they are.
But most important of all are those of you the world over who stand up and speak up, and who refuse to support the amusement parks and aquariums that have shown indifference in the past. Because of you, aquariums are questioning the keeping of whales and dolphins in tanks of any size and are giving serious consideration to moving the animals that can’t be released into sea pens and lagoons, our Congress in the U.S. are stepping up to the plate, and countries such as India have banned the captivity of whales and dolphins entirely.
“Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.”
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
French poet, novelist, and playwright
Below is a reprint of a post I wrote in 2010 a, a week and a half before Dawn Brancheau was killed. I fills in background on this issue and explains Congress’s role in protecting the whales and dolphins entrusted to government oversight.
I could write for days about how difficult, frustrating, annoying, and depressing it has been for those who have worked so hard on this issue, but I won’t. I’m in a celebratory mood, and feeling deeply grateful to all who have worked to bring this to the attention of Congress, and to all those Congresspersons who are now stepping up to the plate.
Captive L-pod Orca Is Caught In A Legal QuagmirePosted on February 12, 2010 | By candace_calloway_whiting
One of the Southern Resident orcas captured in 1971 continues to reside in captivity at the old and tired Miami Seaquarium. This lonely whale was given the unfortunate name “Lolita” and lives in a sub-standard pool without companions of her species. She is getting old, has to perform tricks for her dinner, and has no other orcas for company. There is nothing for her to do but to circle her pool or lie on the bottom when she is not being forced to perform.
This confinement is cruel for an animal species which has been shown to be bright and highly social – orcas have one of the strongest family bonds in the animal kingdom. They rarely sleep and they swim hundreds of miles a day.
Day after day, month after month, year after year…Lolita’s life never changes.
Gone are the days when we enjoyed seeing large animals in small cages, or marveled at the sight of an elephant chained to a post on a concrete pad…yet magnificent whales and dolphins are allowed to be kept like giant fish in small tanks and are trained to do dumb tricks for our amusement. If they are allowed to breed, the families are separated, sold, or traded.
Caring people have been trying to help Lolita (a member of L-pod) for decades – writing letters, protesting, raising awareness – but Lolita’s captors are indifferent and uncaring, and they hide behind loopholes in the laws designed to protect our rare and valuable wild animals.
I have talked to people in Senator Murray’s office, at NOAA, and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (Governor Gregoire’s office directed my information request to them). Senator Cantwell’s office has never responded to emails or phone calls, on any of the orca issues (salmon, vessel regulations, or captivity).
What it boils down to is that Lolita needs a lawyer, and a good one. Here is why:
–First, Lolita was captured right before the Marine Mammal Protection Act was implemented.
–Second, because she was caught ‘pre-act’, the powers-that-be decided she should be directly excluded from the status of endangered that protects the rest of her family (the document reads ‘any member of J, K, or L pods’ in captivity).
–Third, Animal Welfare is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. When it came to determining what standards a dolphin or whale should have in captivity, they asked the theme parks and aquaria to set the standards, not biologists.
–Fourth, the Animal and Plant Inspection Service (known as APHIS) is required to inspect and enforce compliance with the pathetic standards set by the theme parks. It is up to them to interpret the measurements, and they consistently measure Lolita’s pool incorrectly.
– And fifth… no one in any of these organizations with whom I spoke feels they can do anything to change the standards set for captive cetaceans. But people made the decisions that allow a handful of individuals get very wealthy in the mistreatment of these gentle (and in the case of Lolita; endangered) animals. So it would seem that people can also change those laws and remedy the situation.
Meanwhile, individuals and groups continue their efforts to improve Lolita’s life. In 2009 Shelby Proie and SaveLolita.com used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain inspection records and to have their complaints addressed. As far as I can tell by looking at the documents, it looks like APHIS denied some of the information on the basis that “it’s release would cause a clearly unwarrented invasion of personal privacy”. The results that they did provide were not remarkable, other than to state that Lolita has the company of Pacific white-sided dolphins, and they are “biologically related” to orcas. That is like saying locking a human up with a monkey for company is equivalent to a human companion. That may be true for the owners of the theme park, but it certainly isn’t true for most of humanity.
It may take an Act of Congress to make it right – but given the fact that Lolita is one of only 89 whales like her in the world, shouldn’t that effort be made?
This Saturday, May 24th 2014, 52 events will take place in 21 countries to protest the captivity of whales and dolphins. And in case you are wondering what the fuss is about, CNN is airing the critically acclaimed film that exposes the dark side of captivity, Blackfish, again on Thursday (6 and 8 pm EST) and Saturday (6 pm EST).
[Jeff Ventre]: You’ve participated directly at The Cove [in Taiji, Japan], and I presume you’ve seen Blackfish. Can you speculate how these two movies have “moved the bar” forward in regard to the animal justice movement?
Most people are so busy with everyday life and they do not stop to consider something as basic as the unethical decision to watch orcas doing circus tricks in a glorified swimming pool. They just see it as a family day out at the amusement park. Once they see these films their eyes are opened up to the truth. They see the dirty and bloodly truth behind the dolphin slaughters in Japan and they see what really goes on behind closed doors at the most well-known marine park in the world. These movies have inspired so many people to speak out against the dolphin slaughters and the captivity industry. They have created a movement towards ridding our world of marine mammal captivity.
- 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.
In another case of ‘when you know better, you do better’, the creative genius who brought us Virgin Airlines as well as over a hundred other ventures has now taken a stand on cetacean issues – when Whale and Dolphin Conservation recently mounted a campaign asking tour companies not to book with amusement parks such as SeaWorld, Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson took note. His tour company, Virgin Holidays, will no longer book with any organization that won’t guarantee that they won’t display dolphins and whales that are taken from the wild. (Please see below).
That means any place that accepts dolphins from the Taiji dolphin drives won’t get his business, nor will any park or aquarium that takes the orcas, belugas, false killer whales, pilot whales, and dolphins caught around the world. Countries such as Cuba, Honduras, Russia, Japan, and the Solomon Islands openly catch dolphins and whales for the display trade, and others such as Mexico are lax in allowing dolphin brokers to get “scientific research” permits for capture.
Branson’s stance will affect large corporate ventures such as SeaWorld, privately owned parks such as Loro Parque in the Canary Islands, and every mom and pop ‘swim-with-dolphins’ company world-wide. While other tour companies may still book with those facilities, and while Virgin Holidays probably does not have arrangements with many of the captive dolphin and whale based businesses, Branson’s renowned social media presence will cause a ripple through the industry.
This decision by Branson shows the character of the man – whatever income is lost by his choice will be more than offset by the satisfaction of living according to his principles. Still, as a businessman losing money is unpleasant, no matter how rich and successful you are.
So, please fly Virgin Airlines if you have a choice, and book your vacations through Virgin Holidays. Follow him on Twitter @richardbranson , and leave comments on his blog.
Your opinion is important – he is still studying the issue of captivity in general, and may be open to not booking with any amusement park or aquarium at all where cetaceans are displayed, regardless of whether the animals are wild caught. His study strategy is listed below.
From Branson’s blog:
I’ve instructed Virgin Holidays not to deal with any organisation[s] that do not pledge that they will never again take cetaceans from the sea. We hope other holiday companies will follow suit.Virgin Holidays has played a leading role on the issue of animal welfare in the travel industry for many years, and helped to draft the first ever set of global guidelines to ensure minimum standards are met. This is a complex subject that we’re committed to fully understanding.
We expect all of the tourism facilities we work with to meet the required local and international welfare standards for the animals in their care. As part of an ongoing audit process, any supplier found not to be meeting those requirements is reviewed and if necessary, the relationship ended.
We have begun an engagement process that will gather a broad spectrum of opinion from the scientific community, commercial partners, other travel companies, the general public, conservation organisations and our industry as we improve our knowledge of the various elements of this debate, and work towards a long term vision of captive cetaceans in tourism in the future.
The engagement process will include, but not be limited to, discussion on the following points:
- The role of captive cetaceans for education and raising awareness.
- The issue of training captive cetaceans for entertainment.
- The welfare of captive cetaceans, including the space given to them.
- The breeding of cetaceans in captivity.
- The reintroduction of captive cetaceans into the wild.
We have put a six month timeline on this engagement process. I look forward to hearing more of your views on the subject too.
Update: Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s response to Branson’s statement can be found on their website.