Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Follow Up: Walk For Lolita!

It was another scorching Miami day over at the West end of Hobe Beach last Saturday afternoon. My friend Allie and I arrived at around noon with protest signs in hand, waiting to begin the 1st annual Walk For Lolita. We were the first ones there, but after a few minutes, other whale-lovers began to arrive. Some came from the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, others were there to simultaneously promote the new documentary film The Cove, while the rest were a mish mash of animal-rights fighters young and old. Shelby Proie, the organizer of the Walk For Lolita, and others arrived in swimsuits and Lolita-related body paint in order to attract the attention of passersby to the cause. We organized for a few pictures with our signs and banners and began the march east toward the Miami Seaquarium (or Miami Sea Prison as several activists call it.)

The walk was supposed to originally go from the beginning of the Rickenbacker Causeway all the way to the marine park, but unfortunately Shelby informed me that law enforcement would not allow it. Still, our walk was relatively long and I think it made a pretty good statement. Many cars honked and waved in support, showing us that there really are people who care about Lolita’s retirement. Some drivers looked confused and even slowed down on the highway to read our signs. I saw a few people that were walking/biking in the area that even stopped to ask us more about the cause. This is what it’s all about. Getting the word out that Lolita has been a captive for almost 40 years. Orcas living in the wild can live up to twice that, and if Lolita is retired soon she’ll surely have a better chance at a longer life than if she were to stay in the park.

It took us about a half hour to arrive at the front of the Seaquarium. A police officer was parked nearby, but we never gave her reason to get out of her car. A few people took pictures, including a photographer for the Sun-Sentinel, getting us some of the exposure that the cause is looking for. I said hi to one protester whom I’d met at one of the past demonstrations, and also met a few people, include a British woman who was also one of the promoters of The Cove. Ric O’Barry (who is also featured in the documentary), is a former dolphin and whale trainer from the Seaquarium, and was also in attendance. While he once worked for the park, he now realizes all the problems that come along with holding wild animals in captivity and is now the campaign director for Save Japan Dolphins. O’Barry has been working for decades now to bring attention to the mistreatment and slaughter of dolphins and other marine life.

Another woman I met expressed her disappointment at the apathy that many Miami-based protests seem to suffer from. I agreed, but noted that we actually had a decent turn out considering (about 30something people in total.) Shelby has mentioned to me in the past that getting people really motivated is one of the biggest challenges she’s faced during this past year of putting together demonstrations.

“Most people don't have the time or energy to care about an orca. They seem to feel bad for her, but can't contribute their time to helping her. I put in MANY hours a week talking to people around South Florida on the streets trying to get them interested in our cause, I also spend many hours online gaining international support, which seems to be easier than gaining the support of Miami.”

By the end of the demonstration though, it was clear to everyone that this one had been a success. We had people arrive that had never been to a Lolita demo previously, and even had some protest-virgins in our midst! While the struggle to free Lolita continues, it seems like it’s definitely in an upswing. More of the community is becoming aware and involved. People are learning that whales (and other wild animals) do not belong in captivity and should not be forced in to performing tricks for our amusement while their health and well being deteriorates. Lolita and the other Seaquarium captives have had enough, and while unable to speak for themselves, people like Shelby and Ric and the rest of the protestors are making it loud and clear.

Shelby and the rest of the Save Lolita campaign will be back in action in front of the Seaquarium at the end of the month on August 29th from noon-2pm to continue putting the pressure on the park, so grab some markers, make a sign, put on some sun block, and head out to Key Biscayne to show your support!

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