Orca Whale “Lolita” Is In Peril, And The Corporation That Keeps Her Captive Hopes To Profit From Her Situation

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The tank where an L-pod member (“Lolita”) is confined. Photo by Peter Pijpelink.

Recent efforts on the part of the Miami Seaquarium to obtain BP Gulf oil money to upgrade their water system has only served to point out that the seaquarium’s present system is woefully inadequate. The seawater intake for the aquarium is from the polluted area of Biscayne Bay, a fact which is ironic in that the Seaquarium, along with other “pro-captivity” advocates, have long claimed that Lolita lives in a clean environment, also stating or implying that Lolita’s native waters are toxic.

In reality, the waters where the Southern Resident orcas (which includes Lolita’s family) spend their time are exceptionally clean, according to U.S. government statistics: “Marine waters surrounding the [San Juan] islands are typically of high water quality and are rated class AA. Located at the intersection of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia [between Washington state and Canada], these waters are well flushed by the strong tidal currents flowing in from the Pacific Ocean.” http://www.nps.gov/sajh/naturescience/waterquality.htm.

On the other hand, the water in Florida’s Biscayne Bay where the Miami Seaquarium is located varies from poor quality in the north to marginal as you go farther south, and the seaquarium is located at the edge of what is considered to be the worst part of the area:
Biscayne Bay Conceptual Ecological Model

The main sources of pollution for this heavily urbanized watershed are the Miami River, the Port of Miami, and various canals. High levels of toxic metals, organic contaminants and pesticides have been found in the water and sediments of discharge sites. Altered salinity regimes, increased nutrient and contaminant loadings, and high water turbidity have all contributed to the decreased health and extent of biological communities within the northern section of Biscayne Bay.

The central portion of the Bay is better flushed than the North Bay and has extensive, healthy seagrass beds and other benthic communities. Nevertheless, industrial and agricultural discharges, as well as leachete from the South Dade landfill, are important sources of pollution to this area. A salinity gradient is found in the Central Bay, with lower, variable salinity occurring on the western margin of the Bay due to freshwater inflow from canal discharge and runoff, and higher, more stable salinities in the eastern margin,

Although the seaquarium’s filters will probably catch globs of oil, the seaquarium claims that their system can’t handle much, and the chemical dispersants are another matter entirely. The exact makeup of the dispersants is kept secret under trade laws, but a worker safety sheet for a dispersant called Corexit, says it includes 2-butoxyethanol, a compound associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses. And depending upon the sophistication of the filtering system, many contaminants slip right through – the water looks clear and clean because the biological matter – bacteria, algae and plankton – is gone, but most of the chemicals are not.

Andrew Hertz, general manager of the Miami Seaquarium, said the Virginia Key marine-life park could be devastated if oil reaches Biscayne Bay. The Seaquarium uses bay water to house its wildlife, and may have to take drastic and expensive measures — such as closing off its water system — to protect its assets.

”We don’t have it in our budget to make sea water like Sea World does,” Hertz said, estimating the cost of doing so at about $5 million.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/06/14/1680341/crist-pledges-oil-ads-for-south.html#ixzz0tOAdZgGA

And by the way, all kinds of marine animals are either impinged (caught onto a screen) or are sucked in with all the seawater in these older intake systems. From plankton to mammals, those antiquated water intake pipes can be disastrous.

So the Miami seaquarium, straddled with an inadequate, outdated system finds itself with no backup contingency plan, no way to protect the animals in its care, unable to sustain even the illegal standards it has gotten away with for decades. What does it do? It is looking for a bailout. “Whether it is digging a deep well here on property that hits salt water underground or whether it is burying a new intake under the seabed out there so the seabed turns into a filtration system for us, however it works it is going to cost money I don’t have in my budget right now,” Hertz said.

Initial estimates on putting a closed system in are between $3 million and $5 million, so the Seaquarium plans on submitting a claim to BP in the coming weeks. (Justnews.com)

There are many honest folks, such as fishermen and women who have lost their livelyhood, and many environmental catastrophes that need to be addressed, and it would be a gross injustice if the Miami seaquarium is allowed to profit from this disaster.

Please take a minute and send this letter, written by a concerned and dedicated individual, John Kielty (who initiated the previous letter campaign as well – great work John!!): John Kielty: Tell Fund Distributer Ken Feinberg: No BP money for Miami Seaquarium!

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