On August 8, 1970, a 3-year-old whale by the name of Tokitae was swimming along with her pod in Puget Sound when a number of boats appeared and began an attack on the animals. The pod attempted to escape, but Tokitae, along with 5 other young whales, were hauled on to the boats and taken from their families. These whales were sold to various aquariums and marine parks throughout the world. Tokitae was sold as Lolita to the Miami Seaquarium, where she has remained imprisoned for almost 40 years.
While many recognize Lolita the “Killer” Whale from commercials or childhood field trips to the Seaquarium, few know about Lolita’s background or realize the unpleasant conditions she has to live in. Orcas like Lolita are accustomed to swimming 75 to 100 miles a day, and can dive up to 500 feet below the sea surface. Lolita, however, is kept in an absurdly tiny cage, which is only 80 feet across at its’ widest and just 20 feet at its deepest point. This kind of confinement is unhealthy for any animal, including humans. In case of a hurricane, Lolita lacks any kind of protection from the elements. She also has no real shelter from the sun’s rays, a kind of heat that an orca like herself is not accustomed to as she would normally live in a colder climate. There have also been reports of rust being found in and around tanks and cages throughout the Seaquarium, as well as poor sanitation in several tanks.
(Seaquarium owner Arthur Hertz is the third from the left)
The struggle to free Lolita (and perhaps even to inevitably shut down the Miami Seaquarium itself for its countless other offences including being responsible for the deaths of multiple dolphins and seals in their care) is one that has been going on for years. Many have been able to gather the support of celebrities like Raul Julia-Levy in the past, but even with plenty of financial offers, the parks’ owner and manager (Arthur and Andrew Hertz, respectively) have refused time and again to relent to the pleas of the animal-loving public.
Luckily, groups like Save Lolita, along with Orca Network and The Center for Whale Research, have all been working diligently in order to finally give Lolita the retirement she deserves. The groups have already devised a retirement plan for the whale, giving her the option of rejoining her family or staying with humans but in a much larger, humane environment. Shelby Proie, a college student at Nova Southeastern University, the creator of the Save Our Oceans Now organization and head of the Miami-based Save Lolita campaign, has dedicated the last year to fighting for Lolita’s release. Proie first encountered Lolita 3 years ago and recognized that the orca was in need of some help. After doing much research, she began setting up monthly protests in front of the Seaquarium, in order to raise awareness of Lolita’s dire situation. When asked what message she really wants to spread, she replied:
“It is not right to keep marine mammals in captivity… (Whales) are highly intelligent and socially bonded. Putting them in to a barren, concrete tank alone is taking away every natural instinct they have. She is living in by far the worst conditions for a captive orca in the United States... and should be allowed to retire and rejoin her family.” (Right: Shelby Proie at one of the monthly demos)
Save Lolita, along with other animal rights activists in the South Florida area will be working to make Shelby and Lolita’s dreams come true by participating in the Walk For Lolita this Saturday, August 6, 2009 from 12pm to 2pm. The Walk will start at the first beaches after the Rickenbacker Causeway tolls and end in front of the Seaquarium parking lot. Those who can’t attend also have an opportunity to attend and of the monthly demonstrations held the last Saturday of ever month right in front of the Seaquarium parking lot. Anyone interested in more information or in learning how to help Lolita can visit www.SaveLolita.com, www.OrcaNetwork.org, www.WhaleResearch.com, or by calling Shelby Proie directly at (412) 983-0994.