Lolita Update #133
Listing Lolita under the ESA
February 15, 2014
Many of you may have heard that on January 24 NOAA Fisheries proposed a rule to grant Lolita equal status with her family as a member of an endangered species, pending a 2-month comment period and up to a year before it is made final. The comment period - to help persuade NOAA Fisheries to not only follow through and grant Lolita's inclusion as a member of her family, but to allow her to return to her home - began January 27 and goes until March 28. You can make your comments HERE.
Please see Lolita's retirement plan at the link below, and for those who write articles or blogs, please consider this plan in your media. The issue now is not whether the science and precedents support this plan. If Lolita's future is ultimately decided by NOAA Fisheries, it will be a judgment call largely based on the answer to the question: Would Lolita be safer in the undersized display tank in Miami, or back in her home waters with human companionship and care?
The Marine Mammal Commission, an independent agency of the U.S. Government, established to provide independent oversight of the marine mammal conservation policies and programs being carried out by federal regulatory agencies, said this in an August 2013 letter to NOAA and the USDA:
If NMFS agrees that it should not exclude captive animals from a listing under the Endangered Species Act, then it also will need to consider what can or should be done with Lolita. The petitioners advocate that Lolita be transferred to a sea pen within the range of the wild southern resident killer whale population or be released back into the wild.
Even if/when she is finally determined to be a member of her family under the ESA, if NOAA Fisheries believes her health or her family's health could be harmed by her return to her native waters they don't have to allow her to be retired. We have drafted some basic points to make here to clarify those issues:
We are asking all supporters of our proposal for Lolita's retirement to submit comments to NOAA Fisheries along these lines:
3 essential points to make:
There is no significant risk to Lolita in any stage of Orca Network's proposal for Lolita's retirement in her native waters.
Transport of orcas according to established protocols, is commonly done and has never resulted in serious health issues;
Accompanied by her trusted human caretakers any stresses can be calmed, as experience indicates;
Immersion of captive marine mammals in their native waters is described as therapeutic in veterinary literature;
The initial immersion is likely to be followed by exploration of the seapen environs, and heightened energy and metabolic strength, as demonstrated by Keiko upon immersion in Icelandic waters;
Her ability to catch and eat wild fish is likely to begin to resume in a matter of weeks or months, again as demonstrated by Keiko.
A thorough examination will be conducted by a team of veterinarians and pathologists prior to transport to detect any potential communicable diseases. Assuming there are not, there will be no significant risk to any members of the Southern Resident Community as a result of Lolita's return to her native waters.
Conclusion: there is no harm to Lolita or her family involved in returning her to her home waters.
Remaining in captivity will result in continuing mental and physical stresses and health issues;
Abundant evidence, including peer-reviewed scientific publications, indicate that captivity increases mortality rates for orcas;
Due to her loneliness from living without the companionship of another orca for over three decades, and due to her exposure to the midday Miami sun, and due to the extremely small size of the tank that has been her only environs for over four decades, she is continually suffering as long as she remains in captivity;
Despite Lolita's unlikely good health at over 45 years of age, she is still subject to the adverse effects of captivity on her emotional, mental and physical health.
Remaining in captivity DOES constitute real harm to Lolita, and given her relatively good health notwithstanding her conditions, she is an excellent candidate for return to her native waters for retirement under human care in a seapen, and potentially for eventual full release.
A Day in the Life of Lolita, the Performing Orca
Lolita Documentary produced by Daniel Azarian, featuring Dr. Ingrid Visser
filmed in Miami, Summer 2013 (466 mb QuickTime Movie).
Why retirement of an orca held captive for decades would be safe and beneficial
The physical form and function of orcas and other odontocetes were adapted over 15 to 30 million years for long distance travel and acute awareness in vast and thriving ecosystems. Their intelligence developed over eons for lives in large, complex, extended families. Their brains, their cardiovascular systems, their senses, like echolocation, are all the result of millions of years of adaptations for life in marine environments as members of large societies.
Lolita's family is well known, her probable mother is still alive, and there is no reason to believe she and her family would not recognize one another. Other captive orcas whose families can't be located could be retired to bay pens that would provide comfortable, healthy surroundings. Captive born orcas, even if they don't have memories of the natural world, can be cared for in a bay pen and have access to that world. All these captives would gain strength and return to good health in natural seawater surroundings.
The Ferry Tokitae will be launched soon.
The Ferry Tokitae.
The next 144-car ferry will bear the name TOKITAE. Taken from Chinook jargon (pronounced TO-kee-tay), this Coast Salish greeting may be translated as, "nice day, pretty colors" and also is the name given to a Southern Resident orca captured at Penn Cove, near Coupeville, in 1970. Tokitae was brought to a marine park in Miami over 40 years ago, where she was put into service as an entertainer, and re-named Lolita.
Much is going on to help bring Lolita home and to inform and advocate for her and her family Please consider a tax-deductible contribution to help Orca Network continue this work by clicking HERE. Thank you!