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

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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”.”
By Patricia Sykes

* Hank Meyers was a famous Miami publicist, involved in building Miami’s image.  He followed on the heels of Steve Hannigan, the man who launched Miami into the nation’s awareness by marketing it as a city with “subtle sex appeal”.  It sounds as though Meyer’s office thought the name “Lolita” fit nicely into Miami’s image.  (More information here).
A video of “Lolita’s” early days, after she was united with Hugo:

Increasingly, Lolita is being called by her original name  (Tokitae, or Toki for short) again and the two are often used interchangeably (see previous post on her name).  But ultimately there is just one name for the continued confinement of this whale: inhumane.
Thank you Pat for sharing your experience with us all, and stepping forward to make a difference for the lonely whale “Lolita” who lives in a tiny tank.

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