Lolita, is a 51-year-old female who lives at the Seaquarium, a marine park in Miami, Florida. For 41 years, she has lived in what has been called the U.S.'s tiniest tank.
Source : Wallie V. Funk
On August 8 1970, when she was only 4 years old, Lolita was captured and taken away from her family in the Puget Sound near Washington State. She was one of 7 young orcas kidnapped that day and the only living survivor; the other 6 died within years or even months of being captured.
Source : Wallie V. Funk
Lolita was soon bought by the Miami Seaquarium, where she joined Hugo, a male orca who was similarly ripped from his ocean home in 1968. They shared their tank for 10 years until Hugo's death from a brain aneurysm, caused by him bashing his head repeatedly against the sides of the too small pool.
Source: Rachel Cali
Since then, Lolita has lived alone. Her tank is smaller than legally allowed for a whale of her size, only 35 feet wide and 20 feet deep at it's deepest point, making it the smallest orca tank in the United States. This is especially cruel considering that we now know that orcas can swim for more than 100 miles a day and dive up to 200 feet in the wild.
Aside from a couple of dolphins, Lolita gets no social interaction either – a terrible fate for a highly social and intelligent animal who should be living in a large pod, rather than miles away from other orcas.
Source: Free Lolita The Orca!
When it became clear that Hurricane Irma would pass through Miami, many became concerned about Lolita and the other animals at Seaquarium. The company has been almost silent on the subject of what will happen to the animals. Before the hurricane's arrival, the park hadn't shared evacuation or safety plans with the public – something which other marine parks, such as Seaworld, had done.
Eventually, it slowly became clear that Seaquarium's director had decided to simply leave the animals at the park, despite a brief statement saying that they had 'procedures' in place. What these procedures were were never explained, despite calls from the public and the media for transparency.
Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, a former animal trainer at SeaWorld who has since become a vocal advocate for freeing captive orcas, told The Observer:
The threats to exposed captive killer whales include missile injuries, blunt force trauma, stress, and foreign objects in the pool, which can be swallowed. In nature the whales can ride out storms, spending their time predominantly below the surface and at greater depths. The shallow water columns of captivity force the animals to be exposed.
At this time, the Seaquarium has only put up a post on their Facebook page, assuring the public that Lolita is safe and healthy.
Hurricane Irma update: The sun is out today and we are getting things back to normal. Even Lolita’s bird friends have…
However, many people commenting doubted the truthfulness of the image and the message. It soon came to light that the park had used an old picture of Lolita and her trainers, rather than one from after the storm, as they were claiming.
The image was further contradicted by pictures taken by Lincoln O'Barry, son of animal activist Ric O'Barry, who flew a drone over the park and captured footage of the lonely whale.
Source: Lincoln O'Barry/Dolphin Project
The photos show her floating in murky, dirty water, a stark contrast to the glittery, clean-looking pool shown in the picture released by the Seaquarium just hours earlier. Despite demands from the public flooding the page about the real state of the park and its animals, so far there have been no more updates.
At the moment, untangling what is true and what's not is difficult, and only time will tell if Lolita and the park's other animals have survived Irma unscathed.
Aside from this incident, the orca's situation is still alarming.
Source : Associated Press
Lolita has been at the heart of a legal battle over her freedom since 2011. PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and 3 private parties filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a federal institution in charge of marine resources.
They argued that Lolita should be classed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), an act which protects Killer Whales on the West coast of the United States from being captured and kept in captivity.
Source: Leonardo Dasilva
In 2015, the NMFS announced that Lolita is covered by the ESA, meaning that animal activist organisations could legally ask Seaquarium to let her go, saying that keeping her in a tank was a violation of her physical and mental health. Later that year, Seaquarium was attacked by PETA for violating the ESA. Although a judge ruled against PETA in June 2016, they appealed in July, continuing to fight for the orca's freedom.
Source: Holly Pretsky
In addition to legal challenges, there are frequent protests by members of the public outside the park's gates, who demand that Lolita finally be released into a marine sanctuary near where she was first kidnapped. They hope that she can finally be reunited with her pod and live out the rest of her days with her family.
40 years later, Lolita still calls for her mother, using the unique sounds that only her family uses to communicate with each other, so there is a chance that she would be recognized and welcomed back into the group.
Source: Free Lolita The Orca!
After the death of Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando in January, Lolita is one of the most well known symbols of the fight against captive orcas in the U.S.
It has become increasingly clear over the years that Seaquarium is keeping Lolita in her tiny tank for profit rather than because they genuinely care for her well-being.
They have been claiming that they will built her a bigger, more suitable tank for 25 years and have not, and left her alone during a hurricane which many say could have partially collapsed during the storm. But people continue to fight for her and, hopefully, one day this sad story will end happily, with Lolita free, in her real home.
This video, taken by drone, shows the reality of Lolita's desperate situation:
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