Dear Friends of Lolita,
It's not often that we each have a chance to do something to help bring Lolita home. Between now and July 29 we have an opportunity to act.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), under the USDA, served notice May 30 in the Federal Register of proposed rule changes concerning the minimum space requirements for captive marine mammals. APHIS is soliciting comments regarding changes or additions to the present standards. APHIS will consider all comments that are postmarked, delivered, or e-mailed by July 29, 2002.
You'll find a sample letter to send to APHIS at the end of this message. Please feel free to edit the letter before sending.
This revision of APHIS regulations could change the rules that presently allow the Miami Seaquarium to confine Lolita to the grossly inadequate tank she is presently kept in.
APHIS says about Lolita's pool (July 21, 1999) "The minimum horizontal dimension required is 48 feet, and the pool measures 80 feet by 60 feet. While there is a platform in this pool that does intersect with the required minimum horizontal dimension, there is nothing in the regulations that prohibits such an object from being in the pool. More importantly, the platform does not hinder Lolita's ability to move about freely in a pool that, otherwise, far exceeds the minimum requirements established by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations."
Actually, the 60 feet measurement does not exist. The "platform" is a 45 foot long wall and slideout that intersects the pool, creating two pools joined on the sides by gates 10' wide and 12' deep. The main pool is therefore 80' by only 34' by 20' deep in the middle (the sides are sloped), and the back pool is 26' by 42' by 12' deep. Neither pool meets the minimum horizontal dimension of 48 feet required by AWA standards, but by stretching the tape measure over the wall the USDA adds the two pools together to arrive at 60', which is the combined length of the two pools minus the width of the platform. Remember that Lolita is at least 22' feet long.
The Animal Welfare Act does not specifically say that a wall that intersects the pool is to be taken into account when defining the pool, so the Seaquarium has used this gray area to justify its undersized tank, and APHIS allows the sleight of hand in order to grant the Seaquarium a permit to keep Lolita in an obsolete and inadequate tank.
If the rules are changed so that even by APHIS' wink-and-nod method of measurement the present whale tank at the Seaquarium is deemed unambiguously substandard, then the Seaquarium will no longer be able to use the tank and Lolita will need to be moved.
Though the Seaquarium has repeatedly told the USDA for 25 years that they intend to build a new, larger tank, they told the media in January this year that due to reduced tourism in South Florida ("Tourism is down sharply across the state" -Miami Herald, July 6, 2002) they didn't have sufficient revenues to build a new tank. In addition, since captive orcas are dying faster than they are being born, and further captures worldwide have been blocked by effective political resistance, there is virtually no possibility that any orca will come on the market in the foreseeable future. Therefore any investment in a new tank (the Seaquarium estimates the cost to be around $17 million) would be worthless as soon as Lolita, for whatever reason, can no longer be used to draw customers.
Please send your comments to APHIS by July 29.
APHIS also asks if you have any other specific concerns or recommendations for minimum pool widths, depths or straight-line swimming distances. Please express your concerns.
You may submit comments by e-mail or by postal mail/commercial delivery. If you use e-mail, address your comment to email@example.com. Your comment must be contained in the body of your message; do not send attached files. You must include your name and address in your message and "Docket No. 93-076-17" on the subject line.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT Dr. Barbara Kohn, Senior Staff Veterinarian, Animal Care, APHIS, 4700 River Road Unit 84, Riverdale, MD 20737-1228; (301) 734-7833.
SAMPLE EMAIL LETTER
- What components should we consider when determining space requirements for each species (e.g., surface area, volume, length, width, depth)?
- Should APHIS establish minimum depths for each species? If so, what should these depths be? Please submit any supporting scientific data for each species.
- Which is more important, minimum width or longest straight-line swimming distance? Should APHIS require any specific straight-line swimming distance?
- Do you have any other specific concerns or recommendations for the above sections?
Subject Docket No. 93-076-17
Thank you for soliciting comments on the proposed rule changes concerning the minimum space requirements for marine mammals. I am especially interested in the welfare of killer whales in captivity. Orca survival is significantly reduced by captivity. According to Small and DeMaster (1995a) "...survival of the wild population was significantly higher than estimates for non-calf captive killer whales." Thus it is the duty of APHIS to formulate improved standards that provide at least a semblance of viable housing for captive orcas, even if financial costs create some hardship for marine parks holding them for display. It is the mandate of the Animal Welfare Act to attempt to mitigate this high mortality rate.
At 48 feet, the minimum horizontal dimension is woefully deficient for an orca. The Orca Network Sightings Network tracks the movements of the Southern Resident orca community in Washington State and British Columbia. Each member of this population routinely travels 75 to 100 miles in every 24-hour period. This range of travel is believed typical for the species. An orcas' metabolic and cardio-vascular systems are designed for this level of physical exertion.
One mile is 5280 feet, and yet the minimum width of an orca tank as presently required by the AWA is only 48 feet. Clearly that width must be increased. Confinement in a tank that does not allow a swimming speed of 4-6 knots for sustained periods is likely to reduce the animal's overall strength and stamina, leading to immunodefiency and ultimately an early death. Therefore I strongly believe that regulatory standards regarding minimum width should be increased to allow unimpeded rapid swimming for long periods of time, if only in a circular motion. I recommend a minimum horizontal width of 300 feet for any tank holding an orca. If that is unattainable, the minimum straight-line swimming distance should be set at 300 feet.
Regarding pool depth, according to Robin W. Baird, Lawrence M. Dill and M. Bradley Hanson (World Marine Mammal Science Conference, Monaco, January 1998) "Like all cetaceans, killer whales spend the vast majority of their time beneath the water's surface...All "resident" killer whales spent the vast majority of their time (>70%) in the upper 20 m of the water column, where salmon (thought to be their primary prey) are concentrated. However, ... all "residents" dove occasionally to 100 m or more (maximum recorded dive depth of 201 m)."
It is clear that orcas normally stay tens of meters beneath the surface, and often dive hundreds of meters deep. Thus I recommend that minimum pool depths be set to at least 60 feet.