Dear Friends of Lolita,
We've reached a milestone. This message is the 50th Free Lolita Update. Free Lolita Update #1
went out on March 1, 1999. At that time we announced the First Annual Mother's Day Free Lolita demonstration to be held on May 9, 1999, and it turned out to be a fantastic event. As Susan Berta wrote May 10: "The Mother's Day Demonstration at the Miami Seaquarium was a resounding success & a landmark event in the Free Lolita campaign. 150 - 200 people of all ages & backgrounds turned out to help let the world know that it's time for Lolita to retire & return to the wild."
Now we're announcing the Fourth Annual Free Lolita demonstration, to be held on May 12, 2002 again in partnership with the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, to spark more awareness and let the Seaquarium know that people know and care about Lolita. We're investigating the possibility of having a billboard or two around Miami to heighten awareness of her plight and the solution. We're looking for anyone who may be interested in helping financially to make that happen. We'll have much more to say about that in the weeks ahead. For news of the past two demonstrations go to www.nbc6.net/ecowatch/ and find "Seaquarium vs. Activists," about the January 22, 2002 demonstration, and "New Home for Lolita?" about the August 3, 2001 demo.
On April 17 Orca Network will host noted whale researcher and entertaining presenter Fred Sharpe to shed light on the historical presence of humpbacks in the Pacific Northwest, their demise, their potential recovery and new threats they now face. And Fred will enthrall us with tales of his research in SE Alaska concerning humpback tool use, long term bonding, task specialization and blasting lutfish with sound (acusto manipulation).
On April 27 a life-sized Lolita figure will appear in the Apple Blossom Parade in Wenatchee, Washington. This anatomically correct likeness of Lolita will bring awareness of Lolita's tragic plight and her family's need for abundant salmon runs, which in turn depend on productive watershed habitats throughout Washington and the Pacific Northwest.
We also talked about Keiko in that first Update over four years ago. We reported that on 2/24/99 a pod of killer whales was reported approaching Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland, where Keiko was, and still is, in a bay. We asked: "What will Keiko do when he hears wild whales for the first time since 1979?" Well, that time has come; he ran out to meet them, and swam with some for a time, but he eventually returned to the boat and his human companions.
You probably know by now that the Keiko project has not yet lived up to our hopes. Now the primary funder and guiding light for Keiko's reintroduction to his home and family is looking for someone else to take over. The Guardian of London; www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,675890,00.html reports that Craig McCaw is gradually phasing out his backing for the project and asking for other individuals and organizations to carry the responsibility. We are eternally grateful for Mr. McCaw's deep involvement, for there is no question that Keiko would have died in concrete in Mexico if McCaw had not brought him to his custom rehab tank in Oregon, then flown him to Iceland and given him a chance to rejoin wild whales. Keiko is now a healthy, curious and playful young adult orca, and there is still every possibility that he will one day find his family and swim free of human care.
From the start, however, McCaw needed aquarium industry trainers and veterinarians to take care of Keiko, and from the start marine park personnel have been almost exclusively involved in the project, which has effectively prevented Keiko from finding his family, so far. If veteran field researchers had been given responsibility and if their opinions had been understood, Keiko might be with his family today. As we have mentioned in these Updates more than a few times, marine park managers don't like to talk about the fact that captured orcas always have families back in their ocean homes. It's bad PR for the public to know that captives are still members of their wild families. The aquarium industry tends to deny the scientific fact that for orcas, family bonds are for life, as revealed by the whales' use of vocal traditions; certain calls that are shared with only their immediate family. Since 1996 Woods Hole scientists have confirmed that Keiko was using his family's calls.
To successfully reunite Keiko with his family, it was necessary to find his family first, and that research could be expected to take several years. If field work had begun in Iceland in the mid-90's, Keiko's family could probably have been identified by matching their vocalizations and genetic material with Keiko's, and that information could have been combined with photographic identification so that their whereabouts could have been determined when Keiko was taken out on ocean walks, so that he could have been led to them. There are estimated to be around 5,000 orcas in the waters surrounding Iceland, and Keiko met up with only a few hundred. Without the benefit of prior fieldwork, his chances of meeting up with is family were slim, and still are.
But the marine park experts that were relied on didn't believe a trained orca could possibly remember its family, or that families were that important, until possibly just the past year or so, so they just never got around to doing the necessary field work. As McCaw's spokesperson said: "... we're business people, not animal experts." Without a doubt the Keiko project has been fantastically educational for all involved.
For Lolita, of course, there would be no such impediment. Her family is easy to find for six months of the year, and in fact has been seen and heard in just the past week or so inside the Salish Sea, near Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands; see www.orcanetwork.org/sightings/map.html#seasound. Besides, her reintroduction would be managed by field researchers from the start.
The wayward juvenile orcas
We've reported to you about the two incredible lone orca two-year-olds, one from the Southern resident orca community, L98 (Luna) holding his position far away in British Columbia and the other from the Northern resident community A73 (Springer), who is staying put in Puget Sound a few miles from Seattle. It's like a foreign exchange program, but neither youngster has made contact with any other orcas. Both calves appear to be doing fine, eating well and are very active, curious and playful. A73, the female from up north, often plays around with boats, sometimes sinking logs under boats and letting them go. It seems to be just a playful antic, but it may help solve the anticipated problem of too many lookiloos coming out to see her as the weather warms up. There are no plans to intervene with either calf as long as they look healthy, and both are being well tended to by observers. You can find some of the many news reports at www.orcanetwork.org/news/news.html#vashoncalf.
These two young orcas have astounded even researchers who would not have believed that they could catch fish, not only by themselves, but at their early age. Lolita would probably have even less problem feeding herself, especially considering that she was about six at the time of her capture.
We love to hear from you any time, so please keep in touch, and we'll be sure to let you know what's new around here.
Howard and Susan