AUGUST 18th, 2016 - Court unseals secret expert reports on Lolita's health and welfare
Background: In May, 2015, after three years of legal wrangling, PETA, ALDF, and Orca Network convinced NOAA Fisheries to include Lolita as a member of her family, the Southern Resident killer whales, a protected orca population under the Endangered Species Act. Within weeks we sued the Seaquarium for violating the ESA prohibitions against "harm or harassment" of protected animals. On June 1, 2016, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro dismissed the case without trial on the grounds that the Animal Welfare Act supersedes the ESA for captive animals, and that there is no violation of the ESA unless it can be shown that Lolita is not just harmed or harassed, as the law states, but she must be under “grave threat to her survival.” We are appealing the ruling, and Toki’s legal team is also suing the USDA - again - this time for issuing an operating license to Palace Entertainment, the new owner of the Seaquarium, despite multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Lolita/Tokitae, about 21' long, performs full breaches in water only 20' deep. Photo by Ingrid Visser.
So after a year of discoveries, depositions, site inspections, attempted mediation, and the submission of expert witness testimony by four authorities in related studies, the case will now go to an appellate court. But August 18, on her own accord, Judge Ungaro unsealed a few of the records in our case against the Seaquarium, including the investigative reports from our four expert witnesses, meaning that the judge has made them public documents. The Miami Seaquarium fought to keep them from the public, but the judge unsealed them anyway. The four expert witness reports were can be found here:
Maddalena Bearzi, Ph.D., Ocean Conservation Society, Pres.
Dr. Pedro Javier Gallego Reyes, DVM
John Hargrove, author, Beneath the Surface
Ingrid Visser, Ph.D, Orca Research Trust
Close inspection of Toki's teeth show one possibly infected tooth. Photo by Ingrid Visser.
PETA posted 12 Things Lolita Would Want Miami Seaquarium Visitors to Know
on the objective facts referenced in the reports.
The online magazine The Dodo also published an article titled World's Loneliest Orca Is So Sick She Can Barely Even See
based on the content of the reports (although her vision has not been found to be quite so impaired).
And, Seattle NPR affiliate KUOW spoke with Orca Network co-founder Howard Garrett
to discuss the many alarming details revealed in the reports about her conditions.
A dolphin appears to harass Lolita/Tokitae after the show. Photo by Ingrid Visser.
As explained in the reports, it is important to note that she is not too sick to be returned to her home water, and in fact immersion in her native habitat, while gradually tapering off the medical treatments as they become unnecessary, is the only course of treatment that would be therapeutic and likely to provide her recovery to good health.
These expert witness reports are factual accounts of all the evidence gathered from the discovery, depositions and site inspections. The opinions offered as to Lolita/Tokitae's physical and mental health are based on that evidence. It's important to add that these ailments are caused by her confinement in a cramped space for so long, and the constant harassment by the Pacific white-sided dolphins. Her eye problems were first diagnosed in the 1980s and are not known to have seriously worsened, and only one tooth seems to have been drilled. Her medications are to treat low level infections and stress. If and when she is returned to her familiar home waters, the exercise and stimulation, and the healing effects of natural seawater, will improve her health, and the emotional benefits of returning to her home and eventually communicating with her family are likely to bring her great relief, further improving her metabolic, cardiovascular, and emotional health.