Dear Friends of Lolita,
- August 8th marks 31st anniversary of Lolita's Capture
- Things are heating up in Miami! South Florida residents check your TV news tonight, August 2, for excitement at the Seaquarium as Heather Lischin from ARFF attends Seaquarium news briefing and speaks to reporters.
- Non-news about Keiko sweeping the globe
First, we invite you to join us at one of the following events on August 8th:
~ 7 PM, Captain Whidbey Inn, Penn Cove, Whidbey Island - site of the Penn Cove Captures Wednesday, August 8th, marks the 31st anniversary of the orca capture on Penn Cove where "Tokitae", now known as "Lolita", was removed from her family and shipped to Miami, Florida where she has performed daily ever since.
Orca Conservancy invites you to join us in commemorating the anniversary of the captures on the lawn of the Captain Whidbey Inn, overlooking the shores of Penn Cove where the capture occurred. Of the approx. 45 orcas captured from the Southern Resident Community of orcas (J, K and L pods), Lolita is the sole survivor.
We hope those in the Puget Sound area can attend the gathering on Penn Cove, and we especially encourage those who witnessed the orca captures to come and share your stories and memories. If you can't attend the gathering, but have a story to share with us, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at (360) 678-3451.
~ And in Miami Planning is underway for a major demonstration in front of the Seaquarium for Noon to 1 PM on August 8th. Florida State Rep. Gus Barreiro, who represents Key Biscayne, will be leading the charge, with the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida adding logistical force to the demo. Susan Berta and I will be there to represent Orca Conservancy (formerly the Tokitae Foundation). All are invited to join us there!
In an apparent counter-measure, the Seaquarium held a press briefing today, August 2, to declare yet again that they will soon begin construction of a new tank for Lolita. The press release says it will take 18-24 months to complete, will be 3.5 acres and 2.5 million gallons, and cost $17.5 million.
Seaquarium owner Arthur Hertz has promised to build a new tank for Lolita for at least 23 years that we know of. In 1978 Michael Royce, then Lolita's trainer, traveled to Washington DC to testify before the USDA that the tank was woefully inadequate. He was reassured that even though the tank was too small, the Seaquarium told the USDA they would soon be building a new tank. Architects' models have graced the Seaquarium grounds during previous rounds of the "new tank" promise. In June, 1999, right after our big Mother's Day demo at the Seaquarium, Mr. Hertz went on Miami TV himself and said he would begin construction that fall. It looks like the same old shtick to dampen criticism before our demo Aug. 8th.
It's not likely the Seaquarium is going to spend $17.5 million on a tank that will be useless as soon as Lolita leaves, one way or another. Whale tanks are not the same as smaller, shallower dolphin tanks. Lolita is going to leave Miami, either alive to return to her family, or when she finally succumbs to captivity. At about 35, she's long past the normal lifespan of a captive orca, but as a young adult in the wild she could live well past 50 and have another calf or two, if allowed to rejoin her family.
Mr. Hertz might say he plans to purchase another captive orca, but it's impossible to buy an orca on the market, as the Vancouver Aquarium recently found out. They tried to buy one for three years after the male Icelandic orca Finna died, but finally gave up and sent Bjossa (captured along with Keiko in 1978, and also an excellent candidate for release) to San Diego SeaWorld a few months ago. Angela Nielsen, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Aquarium said "Killer whales are very social and very vocal and we couldn't bring another one here so we wanted to send her where she could be with others of her own kind."
Deaths are outpacing births in captivity. Fifteen orcas have died in tanks worldwide in just the past eight years, while only twelve were born in captivity. The most recent capture in Japan in 1997 created such an international uproar that no further captures are contemplated by the marine park industry. SeaWorld, which owns almost half of all captive orcas worldwide, is not about to sell one.
So what would Mr. Hertz do with a $17.5 million dollar tank after his main attraction has gone away? Revenues will surely drop when Lolita goes away, with or without a new tank. Hertz is compelled to repeat the promise to build a new tank for Lolita because it's obvious even to pro-captivity people that the tank is extremely small for an adult orca, but we predict his business training will prevent him from actually spending $17.5 million on a tank that will be largely useless after Lolita departs.
Another incentive for Hertz to once again announce plans for a new tank The Animal Legal Defense Fund is preparing a suit against the USDA for failure to enforce the Animal Welfare Act in regards to the horizontal dimensions of the present tank. The USDA has always accepted the Seaquarium's own measurements, which are drawn over the concrete wall and slide-out platform to include the small medical pool behind the show pool in order to arrive at a legal measurement. All that is needed is a court judgement or sufficient political pressure on the USDA to uphold its obligation to enforce the spirit and the letter of the Animal Welfare Act. The Seaquarium whale stadium could be condemned for public display overnight. The Seaquarium is scrambling to misinform and dampen that political pressure.
Now on to Keiko ~ News headlines have been proclaiming that "Keiko seems unwilling to return to wild" and "Killer Whale Star May Never Be Free." Dire predictions and alarming rumors have consistently made headlines since the movie Free Willy was released in 1993, but really, nothing has changed in recent months. In stark contrast to his captive years, Keiko is far healthier and more active in his native waters and is continuing to progress toward complete freedom.
As always the contingency plan for Keiko is a baypen or a feeding station somewhere in his home waters. The problem is to find his immediate family. In 1988 the total Icelandic population of killer whales was estimated to be between 4,000 - 6,487 whales, but nothing is known about social or family groupings. It is not even clear whether there are distinct sub-populations of killer whales in Icelandic waters. Only a few hundred orcas have been in the vicinity since Keiko has ventured out to sea, so he's barely begun to survey the Icelandic orca population himself.
Lolita, however, has no such problem. Her family members, the Southern Resident orca community, are all known individually by ID photograph and by sight about six months of every year. They frequent the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia and are observed almost every day from May to October. So the news about Keiko is not discouraging, and does not apply to Lolita in any case.