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Lolita The Killer Whale: Why She Can’t Be Released


Lolita spyhops out of curiosity at the Miami Seaquarium in June 2009. I will NOT talk about Lolita's tank for we all agree that it's so old and outdated, that the Seaquarium should consider building her a larger tank that's big enough for both her, her dolphin companions, and even a couple orca companions too.

In recent years, there has been a lot of argument over whether or not Lolita, a 45-year-old Killer Whale at the Miami Seaquarium, should be released back into the wild because the community of orcas where she came from has been well known to researchers since the 1970′s.   This article will talk about why Lolita is not a great candidate for release and why she would have to remain in human care for the remainder of her life even if it involves moving her to either another facility or building her a new tank.

1. Lolita has lived in captivity for 41 years and has fully trusted people.

Since 1970, Lolita has been cared for by trainers and vets at the Miami Seaquarium. Over the years, Lolita has learned to trust her trainers thanks to her possible brother/cousin Hugo, who taught her how to trust and deal with trainers as well as enjoy daily routines.  Lolita’s trainers spend their time interacting with her, especially if there’s no show going on. Trainers will spend time playing with her and the Pacific White Sided Dolphins who share her pool.  Playtime for any animal is important as it strengthens relationships and gives Lolita exercise.  She is also curious about people too. Before shows starts, Lolita will sometimes come up out of curiosity and check them out.  The only two things I do believe that Lolita really needs are a bigger and better tank and a few orca companions although she does get along with her dolphin tank mates. She has her own schedule like any SeaWorld orca too and does not find change to be reinforcing. She’s fed at 9:45 in the morning and gets a good two hours of rest and receives daily play sessions along with her dolphin companions. She is not forced to perform in any shape or form and can refuse to perform anytime. She is fed regardless of what behavior she exhibits.

2. Although Lolita’s pod is known to researchers, there is no guarantee that they would accept her a pod mate.

One anti-captivity argument is the fact that Lolita’s pod is well known to researcher.. While it is true that her birth pod, the L-25 pod has been studied by researchers for over three decades now, there is little to no guarantee that they would accept her as a legitimate member of their pod. You see, killer whales are social animals and most pods will only affiliate with whoever their parents have introduced them too such as other pods they normally travel with. When you think back with Keiko, all interactions with wild pods ended with Keiko returning to the boat were his care takers were aboard because the majority of interactions he had with them were aggressive. For the living members of the L-25 pod, Lolita would considered a stranger to them rather than another pod mate. Also, in the case of rescued juvenile orca Springer, interactions with her pod were aggressive until one of her aunts stepped in to raised her.  Most of the members of the L-25 sub pod who were alive at the time of her 1970 capture have died over the years and only two pod mates who were alive during that time are still alive. They are L-25 (Ocean Sun who was believed to have been born in 1928) and her supposed sister L-12 (Alexis who is believed to have been born in 1933) and both animals have been argued to have possibly be Lolita’s birth mother. While long-time whale researcher Ken Balcomb argued in a 2003 documentary that L-12, Alexis was her mother, other activists suggests her possible sister Ocean Sun. Yet, unlike Corky, there are no known photographs of Lolita with either one of these animals that were taken prior to the 1970 Penn Cove capture. So, only DNA testing would tells us the truth.

3. Even if Lolita was moved to a sea pen, she would still be a captive animal that requires human care. 

Most activists who want to see Lolita moved to a sea pen don’t realize that by having Lolita reside at a sea pen, she would still be in captivity, except, she would reside in an enclosed area that would be surrounded by the ocean. While the pen itself would take months to build, Lolita herself would still require long-term care by zoo professionals that she currently receives at Miami Seaquarium, except, this care would be possible through public support and public funding which can only be made possible by the sea pen being opened to the public, this will help with funds needed for her care. Lolita should not be kept alone in the pen, and whoever  is operating the sea pen would be required to find a suitable companion for her because again, there’s no guarantee that her wild pod would ever recognize her a legitimate family member.

4. The Salish Sea is still under threat as a marine habitat thanks to habitat destruction, increase tourism, and pollution.

While various pollutants have been banned in the United States in the 1970′s, pollution is still threatening the Salish Sea’s marine ecosystem. For example, toxic substances accumulate in higher concentrations as they move up the food chain. As the top predator in the Pacific Northwest, Killer Whales are considered to be the most polluted marine mammals in the oceans. The toxic build up of pollution starts before birth when the mother passes these pollutants on to her offspring and later through nursing. In the Pacific Northwest, the Chinook salmon, the primary food source for Southern Resident Killer Whales is endangered due to stream-side logging, increase in agricultural development, spread of disease and competition by salmon hatcheries, and over-fishing worldwide. The lack of wild salmon has caused orcas to not have enough fat reserves that would ensure their survival during the long winter months. It has been observed that the orcas of Salish Sea are not fat and healthy as they should be, due to summer gorging; it causes a lot of concerns about their survival and their well-being in the coming months. The Salish Sea commonly crowded with a variety of boats coming in and out of their habitats for various reasons. During the summer months, much of the Salish Sea is busy with boat traffic and that is noise pollution. Of all the known senses of cetaceans, sound is the sense they rely on the most. With shipping, marine tourism and navy activity every increasing in the ocean, so much noise is being introduced into cetacean habitats, thus, interrupting their normal behavior, and even driving them away from feeding and breeding areas they rely on for survival. Recent studies have shown that noise pollution, especially navy sonar, has been linked to mass standings, and severe hearing damage in cetaceans. Cetaceans rely on sound to navigate, communicate with other animals, find and catch food.

5. If Lolita was released and is not accepted into a wild pod, there could be a chance that she could become a “wild-friendly cetacean”. While we may be able to teach Lolita how to hunt, we can’t teach her the ways of wild orcas, like how to avoid boats, and use sonar to navigate through murky waters. If Lolita was released and not accepted by her wild pod, her story could end like Keiko’s did; he traveled across the Atlantic Ocean alone where ended up in Norway and began interacting with boaters, and ultimately The Salish Sea is known for its summer boat traffic, a friendly Killer Whale would not be a safe Killer Whale. L98 Luna was a good example of this.  He was boat friendly and was eventually killed by the propellers of a tug boat.   If Lolita approaches boats she puts herself in danger and puts the boaters in danger. This could create a very damaging situation.  The chances of Lolita being re-captured before she is killed would be very low.

I have made my case regarding Lolita and  it’s concluded that Lolita cannot be released back into the wild but, remain in human care for the rest of her life. There’s no guarantee that releasing her would be successful and she is not an experiment, nor should be treated like one. I would suggests that she should be given either a bigger tank that would be large enough to house her and her dolphin companions with the possibility of one day acquiring another Killer Whale companion or be moved to a SeaWorld park where she could at least be around other orcas. However, there is little chance to no chance of her ever being moved to another facility because Lolita does not like change.

Big thanks to Nicole Perkins for editing this blog entry in hopes convince activists that Lolita is not a great candidate for release. Thanks again Nicole, your help was great one.

~Jenna~