Our historic election is now past and change is in the air! Hopefully change will also happen in the water. On January 20, 2009 a new President of the United States will assume the role of leader of our endangered nation.
Though the oceans are below us, as the fountain of all life on Planet Earth, if we consider marine life to be beneath our concern and interest, we risk continuing to do severe damage to our planet's ability to breathe and live.
We have hope that our new President understands this, and is aware of the overwhelming scientific knowledge telling us we need to change our ways to ensure a safe and viable home for all of Earth's inhabitants for generations to come.
So what does this have to do with Lolita, stranded in a Miami show pool since 1970? It has to do with her real home, the coastal and inland waters of the Pacific Northwest. She belongs there, and we, and her family, need her to help draw attention to the need to take care of it.
Also, the tank she has been kept in is illegal by the Animal Welfare Act of 1966. Since the AWA was enacted the marine park industry has had more influence than advocates for the animals, both in the drafting of regulations and their enforcement. The industry has esentially been left to govern itself and determine its own standards, and has been given the benefit of any lack of clarity in the law.
That would explain why the Seaquarium's illegal whale tank is tolerated by the USDA.
Section 3.128 of the AWA, Space Requirements, states:
Enclosures shall be constructed and maintained so as to provide sufficient space to allow each animal to make normal postural and social adjustments with adequate freedom of movement. Inadequate space may be indicated by evidence of malnutrition, poor condition, debility, stress, or abnormal behavior patterns.
150 orcas have died in captivity, all of them in their youth or long before their average lifespan in the wild, but since Lolita has not become ill federal inspectors have concluded that there is no evidence that her space is inadequate. As the Humane Society of the US says:
Clearly, whatever the principal reason for their ranging patterns, confining cetaceans in a pool that is at best only six or seven times their body length guarantees a lack of aerobic conditioning and brings on the endless circling and stereotypical behaviors seen in other large carnivores in captivity. Such confinement is inhumane at a nearly inconceivable level.
Lolita is confined in a space less than twice her length in width. Section 3.128 says that the width of an enclosure for an orca or a dolphin must be at least twice the length of the animal. Lolita is about 22 feet long, and yet the tank is only 35 feet wide by 75 feet long and only 20 feet deep. Amazingly, the 20 foot depth is legal. The AWA actually allows an orca to be kept in a tank only 12 feet deep(!) which is the depth of the medical pool behind the slideout platform. So regulators simply add the dimension of that pool to the main pool to arrive at a legal measurement. This is clearly a strained interpretation of the law by an administration that tends to do favors for business owners and doesn't like regulations.
That may change on January 20, 2009. Of course there are far more pressing matters for the new administration to manage, but as new appointments are made and new governing philosophies enacted, there is a very real possibility that new administrators will be appointed who will honor the actual intent of the Animal Welfare Act, to guarantee the welfare of captive animals. Maybe they will have new interpretations of Section 3.128.