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Free Lolita Update 30

Lolita Update #30
March 17, 2001

Dear Friends of Lolita,

The Seaquarium still maintains its grip on Lolita, and the prevailing belief among the nay-sayers is still that Lolita is mentally and physically too weak to return to her home. Of course that's what they said about Keiko too, and he's like an Olympic gold medalist ready for the race these days. Read on for the latest news about Lolita, her family back home, and Keiko.
  • Sewage spill threatens Seaquarium water supply
  • Six newborns join Southern Resident Orca community in past two years
  • Orca Captures stopped 25 years ago in Washington State
  • Keiko's prospects improve for reunification with family
  • Discover Magazine runs article on Southern Resident orca community
  • Orca License plates proposed for Washington
  • New Orca Conservancy website on the way
  • Former Seaquarium show director speaks up for Lolita!
  • How to replace Lolita with a mechanical whale
March 16, 2001
Sewage spill closes Key Biscayne beaches

Beaches on Key Biscayne were closed after millions of gallons of raw sewage spilled late Thursday into Biscayne Bay at the mouth of the Miami River. The Miami Seaquarium's water supply, in which all the animals swim and live, is drawn from Biscayne Bay approximately three miles from the broken sewer line.

A tugboat raked the bay bottom and split open a main sewer line. When the line was severed, an eight-foot-wide fountain of waste spewed like a geyser four feet above the surface of the water. Between seven million and 12 million gallons of sewage likely ended up in coastal waters.

Closed were Key Biscayne Beach, Crandon Beach, Hobe Beach, Windsurfer Beach and Cape Florida. All coastal waters from the Julia Tuttle Causeway south on the bay side are off-limits to swimming or fishing until further notice. The sewage spill represents the second major rupture of a line in less than a year.

More than 25 million gallons of raw waste spewed into local waters last summer after a contractor working without a proper permit drove a piling through a sewer main June 20 at the Miami Beach Marina.

Six newborns join Southern Resident Orca community (Lolita's extended family) in past two years

Some events just have to be celebrated and for now at least we have something to cheer about. People are looking on with great interest as the small orca population known as the Southern Resident Community gains and loses members. Unlike any other mammal known to science, orcas born into the Southern Resident community remain members of their extended family for life, so no orcas will migrate in to join the Southern Residents. Losses of the past few years are still far in excess of new arrivals, but a recent wave of new orca babies is lifting spirits and hopes for the health of J, K, and L pods.



Thursday, March 8th marked the 25th anniversary of the last orca capture in Puget Sound or Washington waters. In March 1976, when Don Goldsberry set out to capture orcas to sell to marine parks across the country, he made a few mistakes. The capture operation took place in Budd Inlet, in full view of the capitol in Olympia, and at a time when the Evergreen State College was hosting an International Orca Symposium. And former Secretary of State Ralph Munro (then working for Gov. Dan Evans) and his wife Karen just happened to be out sailing the day of the captures, resulting in their life-long devotion to saving orcas, beginning with a demand to immediately stop the captures.

Six whales were captured and kept in a pen in Budd Inlet, while it was determined whether they were of the right size and age to be transported to marine parks. But all did not proceed as Goldsberry had hoped. From the March 9, 1976 edition of the Seattle P-I:
Meanwhile, a political storm was brewing over the capture operation. Senator Warren G. Magnusen said "apparently this man has a valid permit. But there ain't gonna be any more. This is the end. If I have my way, this is the end.
Elliot Marks, special assistant to Gov. Dan Evans on natural resources, said the governor objects to such capture operations and he has been opposed to Goldberry's permits in the past."

Hundreds of people met and planned protests, and the wheels began to turn to set the orcas free. Noted orca researchers such as Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, and Paul Spong and Michael Bigg from Canada, were there to speak out for the whales. These researchers were just beginning to understand the population and social dynamics of orcas, but they had learned enough to realize they shouldn't be captured and held in aquariums solely for financial gain and the pleasure of the public.

The Seattle P-I article states: "The capture of the six whales represents a 10 per cent reduction in the Sound's killer whale population, said UW ecology student April Brooks. This could seriously threaten the ability of the herd to maintain itself, she said.

Ms. Brooks urged the audience to speak out in favor of the Sound as a whale sanctuary. "We want to make certain that nothing like this ever happens again in Puget Sound," she said."

During the captures of the 1960's and '70's, 45 orcas were taken and delivered to marine parks from the Southern Resident orca community (J, K and L pods), with at least a dozen additional whales being killed during capture operations. This had to have a significant impact on the community, which is actually a large extended family. Had they not lost such a high percentage of their population 25 years ago, they would most likely be better able to survive the stresses they face in today's world.

And out of all the orcas captured in Washington, only one remains alive today. "Lolita", or "Tokitae", captured off Whidbey Island in 1970, has been performing at the Miami Seaquarium in a small tank for over 30 years, thousands of miles away from her home and pod. Efforts to free Lolita and bring her back home to her family continue, while Free Willy's "Keiko" is in Iceland, poised to be the first long-term captive orca to be released back into the wild. There is time to undo the wrongs of the past, and to help both wild and captive orcas, but we need to do it now, before it's too late.

Lolita is one of the oldest captive orcas in the world, and is living on borrowed time, already well past the normal life expectancy for captive orcas. But in the wild, she could live to be 60 or 70 years old, and have a calf or two, which would be an important addition to her troubled pod back home. For conservation reasons alone, Lolita needs to return to her family. There is much to be done to help the orcas, our oceans, and ourselves.

Bacground information on the registration flyer for the First International Orca Symposium includes:
The killer whales (Orcinus orca) as well as other marine mammals once ranged all months of the year in northwest waters. Orcas, largest members of the dolphin family, are found in all oceans of the world, but they have never been numerous. Orcas have been hunted for more than a decade in the interest of science and public display. British Columbia has called a moratorium on further captures.

Are marine mammals in Puget Sound threatened? What is the status of the world's great whales? The possibilities of a marine mammal sanctuary in Puget Sound will be a major focus of this Symposium.
25 years later, we're still asking many of the same questions. There currently is a petition being readied to list the Southern Resident community of orcas as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, after their population dropped from 98 to 81 in five years. The threats to orcas today include the precipitous decline of salmon, their main diet; the damaging effects of PCB's and other pollutants in their ocean habitat; and increasing impacts from human population growth and vessel traffic.

Marine Protected Areas are being established in San Juan and other counties, and an "Orca Pass International Stewardship Area" is being proposed for waters on the border of the U.S. and Canada. There are huge efforts to save endangered salmon and restore streams and estuaries, and the impacts of boat traffic are being studied. But it is clear we need to do more, and do it now, if we want to continue to experience the thrill of seeing pods of orcas swimming in our Washington waters.


Keiko's prospects for reunification with his family turn brighter with each Icelandic day!

Following is Ocean Futures' report for March, 2001
Today, snow is still falling over Klettsvik Bay in Vestmannaeyjar and the nights are still longer than the days, but the time to take Keiko back out to the open ocean and whales is fast approaching.

The animal care team on site this month have initiated a regime to vary Keiko's routine. His exercise sessions are on no set schedule, his training program again includes preparation for open ocean walks and his feeding is being varied to prepare him for gorging and fasting that is common among free ranging killer whales.

Five hundred miles of open ocean walks during last summer, the first ever ocean walks for a captive orca, taught us a great deal. We know Keiko is comfortable in the open sea. After fifteen encounters with his own species, we know that he approaches them. In human terms, he appears curious.

What we have learned is that Keiko can do just fine in the open ocean. Our challenge this spring and summer is to provide him with every opportunity to be in contact with other whales and to interact at his own pace. With this goal in mind, we are taking steps to give our team the equipment to stay at sea for extended time without coming back to the harbor. Last summer, the need for food, shelter and fuel brought us back to the bay and Keiko's enclosure. This field season we're putting Keiko in charge.

We will base the team on a ship at sea, provisioned with supplies for the team and Keiko. Our walk boat will deploy from the ship as well as from shore. Our aerial monitoring will be able to take place from the ship enabling us to track whales over a much greater distance from Vestmannaeyjar. The research programs - photo identification, time/depth recorder studies, genetic sampling, acoustics and aerial surveys - will all be able to proceed from our ocean research platform. Every tool for monitoring and tracking Keiko as well as free-ranging whales will be on board.

With this plan, we expect to markedly increase the amount of time Keiko is near his cohorts. We expect to allow him the opportunity to acclimate to other whales without our needs requiring a return to harbor. And, we expect that Keiko will show us more about reintroduction than we know.

There's an informative article on the Southern Resident Community of orcas in the February issue of "Discover" magazine. It's titled "Sea Sick" & focuses on the decline of the So. Resident Community's population & the factors contributing to it - A well written article that brings the facts home, & will certainly help spread the word about our orca neighbors. The point unfortunately not mentioned in the article is that Lolita is needed by her family to add to their numbers and very likely to add a new calf or two.



Three students from Snohomish High School (north of Seattle) sponsored a bill to get the orca whale on the Washington State Plate. The money raised would go to research and preservation of the dwindling Southern Resident Community. Similar plates have raised millions in Florida for Manatees, dolphins and sea turtles.

Representative John Lovick sponsored their bill and Rep. Aaron Reardon co-sponsored it after listening to the presentation.

Please let your local representative/senator know if you would like them to support this bill (it is in the process of being assigned a number) Find their email addresses. (Webmaster Note: Dead Link.)

Let the two reps and the three senators below know you support the bill.



Work is progresing on the debut of the new Orca Conservancy website. Friends of Lolita will be notified as soon as it's ready for unveiling!



A former Seaquarium trainer named Michael Royce testified to the USDA in 1978, and was promised a new tank would be built soon.

Royce writes:
What an incredible blessing to have found your site!! In 1976, I was the Show Director at the Miami Seaquarium and had the pleasure of working with both Hugo and Lolita. I can go and on with many stories about these two whales and the amazing things they did (and the not so nice things they did such as attack trainers). They have both remained in my hearts this many years later.

In the late 1970's, I testified at a Federal USDA hearing concerning proposed regulations for whale tanks and captive whales. I flew to Washington, DC at my own expense to meet with the Fed at the USDA who was responsible for enforcing these regulations. I pleaded with him to do something about Hugo & Toki's (Lolita's) tank. He assured me that (1) the tank clearly did NOT meet Federal regulations and (2) the Seaquarium will have to do something about it. So the Seaquarium promised it would build a bigger tank (this was in 1978 or so!!!). So case closed, I thought. Problem solved. Now, twenty-something years later, Toki is still in her little tank and the Seaquarium is STILL promising a bigger tank - and the only thing that has changed is now there are lots of people like you folks screaming and yelling about this instead of only me doing it myself. So thank you!!!!!

Although they continue to display live orcas captured from their families, Japanese aquarium moves a step closer to replacing captive orcas with special effects.

A team of designers from Michigan has built a 15-foot robot orca for the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium, one of the largest aquariums in Japan. The robotic killer whale, worth about $500,000, will next be shipped to Mannetron Inc. in Battle Creek. There, workers will install motors to allow the robot to give the appearance of swimming. The next step will be fitting the whale with its trademark white-and-black "skin."

Chief engineer Peter Jungen analyzed videotape of a live whale to come up with the design. The skeletal shape was built with the help of companies including Airway Welding, Pyro-Tech Tool Treating, Condad Heat Treat, Production Tool Supply in Jackson and YMT International and Caster Concepts in Albion. The finished whale will go into an exhibit near the aquarium's live whale. The exhibit aims to educate people on a whale's anatomy, the birthing process and how it moves as it swims, Jungen said. Holographic images beamed behind the whale will give viewers the impression that the mammal is swimming through water, he said.

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!

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