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Lolita the Orca

by Joy Johane about a month ago in wild animals · updated about a month ago

She is the loneliest Orca in the world and lives in the worlds smallest Orca tank. Together, we can make a difference and give this Killer Whale the freedom it deserves.

Lolita

Lolita is a killer whale that has lived at the Miami Seaquarium for more than 50 years. She is over 20 feet (6 meters) in length but lives in the smallest Orca tank in the world - which goes against guidelines. The tank is 20 feet deep and 35 feet wide, barely compensating for a mammal as large as Lolita. Over the years, her captivity has angered many and attempts to get her moved and reunited with her original family through lawsuits and protests have failed. She was captured from Salish Sea Southern Resident Orca Community on August 8 of 1970, where boats, planes and explosives were used to gather and separate calves from their mothers. A total of 80 Orcas were captured that day.

They ringed the panicked and screaming whales with nets, and used long sticks to push mothers away from their calves. Five whales drowned in the nets. Six babies were taken from their mothers, who cried out in distress as their calves were airlifted and shipped to marine parks. After the capture, the men filled the bellies of the whales that died with rocks and tied anchors to their tales, so they would fall to the deep unreported. But not forgotten. - Giulia C.S. Good Stefani ( Senior attorney working to protect Orcas)

Lolita was then sold after being ripped away from her family just to be used for revenue and entertainment.

Lolita and others during their capture in 1970. Picture by Wallie Funk.

Credit: Wallie Funk

Credit: Wallie Funk

What is an Orca?

Orcas are majestic creatures and scientists describe as being the most social creature on earth next to humans. They are intricate and very intelligent mammals that live in groups which are known as pods. These pods are female led and often consist of mothers, sisters, cousins and their offspring too. A male Orca spends its entire life with its mother – it will go off to mate but it will always return to its group. Pods will have their own distinct call that they will use to communicate with those in their group and this is passed on to each generation.

There are no known incidents of an Orca attacking a human whilst it’s in the wild. In fact, Orcas are apex predators and what this means is that no other animal hunts them - apart from humans. However, what is more interesting is that Orcas in captivity have attacked humans. Why is that? Is it because they interact with humans more than they would had they been in their natural habitat or is it because they are not in their natural habitat at all thus they are more likely to act out?

With this in mind, know that Lolita has not seen another killer whale since 1980 when Hugo, the Orca she shared a tank with, killed himself.

Hugo's body being removed. He was dumped in the Miami-Dade landfill and was never honored or mentioned again. Click for larger view.

Hugo repeatedly rammed his head against the tank - something he would do often. However, on one occasion it led to a brain aneurysm (bleed in the brain) which ultimately killed him. Sadly, it is very common for animals in captivity to act out in such a way where they can severely hurt themselves. This should be significant to tell you that this way of life is not the right way but even that is not enough.

Take lockdown for example, a lot of people have claimed to have seen a major decline in their own mental health by being restricted to the confines of their home. Now, picture Lolita that has lived in a small tank for the majority of her life. She has no shelter from the sun, even when it is at its hottest and a trainer stated often seeing her skin crack and bleed as a possible result of this. If we are impacted in that way, how can she not be?

Sometimes her tank consists of less water - recorded at 11 meters at one point. Orcas naturally swim deeper into the water to protect themselves from the sun and on a daily, Orcas swim over 100km but Lolita doesn’t have this right. Instead, she is forced to hover in one spot or simply go in the same circles she always has.

As humans, it’s easier for us to disregard these facts (reported by Miami Seaquariams records which a judge said should not be sealed ) because we’re not in that position. We have the freedom to go from one place to another and see and interact with others but Lolita doesn’t have that choice, whatever form of freedom she had was lost the very day she was brutally captured.

She is the last surviving Orca of the 80 that were captured.

Lolita pictured in her tank. She has been nicknamed, The Loneliest Orca in the world.

It has been suggested by conservationists and researchers that Orcas should not be kept in captivity simply because it deprives them entirely of a quality life and it has proven to be dangerous to humans. If it is not obvious, one reason is that they are simply too large and what can replace the ocean, which is their natural habitat? Lolita is not okay and here are a few facts as recorded by the Miami Seaquarium.

A lot of medication is administered to Lolita, from antibiotics, anti-acids including narcotics – steroids and hormones alongside antifungals. This implies that she is not in the best health but at the same time it appears that these medications are administered with no real evidence of there being anything wrong:

“Many times, she was given drugs without any clinical evidence that they were required, such as being given an antacid when repair work was being done to the area surrounding her tank or in preparation for “the busy season.” Records show that she was given at least one medication virtually every single day. The sheer volume of medications that she is given indicates that she isn’t healthy. All the treatment that she receives is for ailments caused by her captivity.” – PETA

Her teeth have been drilled, which is unfair as it increases sensitivity and this may damage the nerves which can be extremely painful. The dolphins that she shares a tank do not like her and attack her. She is reported as having sustained a total of 52 bite marks all over her body at one point. Reports provided by the Miami Seaquarium suggest that Lolita shows signs of neurological distress, which should not be surprising because she is being kept in captivity and in conditions that do not meet her needs. The Miami Seaquarim is meant to document animal behavior and in their own files it states Lolita’s behavior suggest the warning signs of an unhappy and distressed Orca.

“including head-bobbing, a tense body, an open mouth, slapping with her flukes (tail) or pectoral fins, jaw-popping, wide-open eyes, ignoring signals, unusual vocalizations, avoidance, sinking under the surface, and deliberate, slow movements.” – PETA

More details on the information contained in the report can be found here

Tokitae is her name, Lolita is just a stage name

Lolita swimming (2017)

The biggest issue at hand is whether or not Orcas can survive upon release. It has been suggested that releasing Lolita would be cruel as some believe that she would not be able to survive. However, Lolita would not just be released into the ocean without any rehabilitation. The most important step is giving her that rehabilitation so that she can regain her freedom and be reunited with the remainder of her pod. Lolita's mother is still alive (85 years old) and the hope that the two could meet once again after 50 years is worth fighting for.

The Lummi nation are a Native American tribe that fight for the freedom of Orcas. They are based on the coast of northern Washington and southern British Columbia. With a treaty that was signed with the United States back in 1855, it gives the Lummi nation hunting and fishing rights. Their connection with Salish Sea is almost a sacred one and has been for thousands of years. With such a deep connection in place, members of the Lummi nation feel that it is their responsibility to protect the inhabitants of those waters. They have fought for Lolita's freedom and continue to do so, wanting her to be returned to her home.

The Sea is of such great importance to this tribe they developed a campaign to protect the sea and its inhabitants. The campaign includes eliminating any new stressors to the Salish Sea, creating a healthy salmon population and producing a plan to redirect both marine vessels and development ideas. Their dedication became widely known when their journey to save Tokitae, a captured Orca from the Salish Sea that was put on display in an aquarium, became public. - Chelsea Quaies and Michelle Bender

Activists place their hands on the Lummi Nation's Tokitae totem in Miami on May 26, 2018. (Lummi Nation)

Whilst some might think it's too late to do anything because of how old Lolita is, it truly is never too late. She deserves to interact with other Orcas and to swim endlessly in chlorine free water. It is her right and our efforts will not fail if we continue pushing for her freedom. We can not sit back, knowing what we know and not do anything. I wrote this to bring awareness to something that is so obviously wrong.

Below is a link to a form which you can fill if you wish to.

SAVE LOLITA

Thank you for reading

- Joy Johane

wild animals

Joy Johane

I write and stuff.

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