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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Potential Good News for Lolita

You may or may not have heard of Lolita, an L-Pod whale that has been in captivity for an astounding 38 years. The local Southern Resident pods that I post about were subject to many live captures during the 1960s and 1970s, taken from their stable family groups to be put into marine parks and aquariums around the world. During this time more than 40 animals were removed from this population, and more killed in the capture process, leaving barely over 70 whales when population studies began in the early 70s. While local wild orcas can live to upwards of 50 years for males and upwards of 90 years for females, captive orcas rarely survive longer than a few years. Between small tanks, poor social situations, and boredom and depression, it simply isn't a stimulating life for them. Lolita, at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida (also known as the Miami Seaprison), has somehow defied all odds and survived as the longest-lived orca in captivity, in a tank not even as deep as she is long, and since 1980, without any other orcas. She still makes L-Pod's unique vocalizations.

While it is unknown who Lolita's mother was, we do know that she was a member of the L25/L12 subgroup. Several of her immediate family members are still alive, such as L25, L77, L94, and L41, pictured above.

There have been efforts over the last few decades to "Free Lolita", removing her from her captive life and preparing her for reintroduction to the wild, much like occurred with Keiko, the star of the Free Willy films. Her owners in Miami haven't even been willing to enter in discussions about this proposal, refusing even when millions of dollars have been offered for her freedom. This battle often seemed futile, even despite support from many actors in Hollywood as of last winter, but yesterday something happened that may ignite the calls for her release. A young college student in Miami worked with Orca Network to report on Lolita's situation on iReport, where members of the public can generate and post their own news stories. The stories that get the most views and comments have a chance to be aired on CNN.

Within a day, Lolita's story got hundreds of hits, and not only was it shown nationally on CNN, it was shown every hour, on the hour, all day yesterday. Hopefully, this coverage will lead to more coverage, and the public awareness of her plight will generate enough pressure on the Miami Seaquarium to finally release her and give her a chance to make it back to her family members in L-Pod. Again, a lot of the money is there via donors from Hollywood - the Aquarium just has to agree to let her go.

You can learn more about Lolita's situation from Orca Network's captivity page. I also highly recommend the compelling and very emotional movie, Lolita: Slave to Entertainment.


Vera said...

While I am completely in favor of all animals living wild and free, I do question how Lolita would fare in a wild environment, after being in captivity for so long.

Vera said...

...But then on the other hand, when I think about a human being imprisoned unjustly for that long, perhaps that return to home could be a wish come true, however brief it might be. Are there really any concrete answers?

Monika said...

Vera, you're absolutely right....she may no longer have the skills to live wild and free. However, she was three when capture, which was older than Keiko, who successfully learned how to hunt in the wild. Also, unlike with Keiko, we know exactly which group of whales she belongs to. In the very least, she deserves to be in a larger body of water with members of her own species again.

What I question is the amount of money it would cost - could that money do more good helping the whole population, than just one whale? But a lot of the money is already there for this purpose, and the publicity it would give the whole group of whales would be priceless.

There's no question, though, that she's been unjustly prisoned, and she deserves to get out of the Miami Seaquarium. It will be an interesting story to follow....