Dear Friends of Lolita (Tokitae),
The Seaquarium now has until October 22 to make full repairs or it will be shut down by Miami-Dade County. Seaquarium staff disconnected the electrical wires that were exposed and blocked off areas where guardrails were about to fall. The top two floors of the "reef tank" have been closed, the shark tank bridge has been closed, the training tank roof has been removed, and the railings in the whale stadium have been reinforced.
There is a discrepancy between Saturday's report in the Florida Sun-Sentinel and our conversation this morning with the communications officer for the county building department. The Sun-Sentinel said: "Inspectors cited the park for about 125 violations, among them: A roof in the stadium for Lolita that rust had damaged beyond repair." Today I was told that the roof: "may not look pretty, but it's not in violation."
We don't know whether the roof is truly in violation or if that will take either more rigorous standards of compliance with code or more time to fall apart. Hurricane Isabel is a reminder that Miami sits directly in the path of many a hurricane. That rusted roof is extremely vulnerable to high winds. Photos from over three years ago show I-beams holding the roof up that are completely bored through with rust (see a photo of the stadium roof at http://www.orcanetwork.org/captivity.html). The Seaquarium sits in the middle of Biscayne Bay, where corrosive salt air constantly gnaws away at iron and concrete, the two primary materials that make up the Seaquarium.
In the meantime, the issue that's just as much a foundation of Tokitae's captivity as concrete and iron is the belief that it would be a "death sentence" to return her to her natural waters. As absurd as that claim is, if you ask any marine mammal trainer, any park veterinarian, or virtually any journalist or person on the street, they will tell you that the idea of returning a captive whale to its home is dangerous, reckless and without real regard for the welfare of the whale. We've heard it constantly for ten years. It's a tribute to nearly 50 years of dedicated public relations efforts by the marine park industry, which began in earnest at the Miami Seaquarium in 1954.
So we're asking you now to help dispel the notion that it would somehow be detrimental to Tokitae's health to once again feel the waters she was born in. As Friends of Lolita you must know this by now, but just as a refresher, we advocate for Toki's retirement to a bay pen in her natural waters for a period of time where she would be monitored and cared for 24/7. When there is an obvious vocal and visual connection with her family, and when her body language and her veterinarian indicate that she is ready and eager to swim free and rejoin them, the net can be dropped and she'll have her chance. If she chooses not to do so, or if she returns to the bay pen at any time, the care staff will be on hand to meet her every need indefinitely. There is no appreciable risk involved at any stage of this plan. Suitable locations have been identified for her pen.
We understand that Toki is legally the property of the Miami Seaquarium and that if the park is forced to shut down she will probably be sold to another marine park. The stress of the move, only to end up in another concrete box, could devastate Toki's mental and physical health. Realistically, there is only a slim chance to head off this dismal fate. Our request is that each of you draw from the above description of Toki's release plan and write letters to just two institutions that may play a pivotal role in Toki's prospects for happiness.
The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) is the umbrella organization for virtually all marine parks, including Sea World, Six Flags in Ohio, and the Seaquarium. A good letter to the AMMPA will resonate throughout the industry. Please mention that transferring Lolita to any marine park would be totally unacceptable and would result in widespread dissatisfaction (and a full-scale campaign against the park that takes her) because any tank would be a death sentence and there is no reason to believe she could not safely and successfully return to her home and habitat. Please feel free to use your own words.
First, please write a letter to:
Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums
418 North Pitt Street Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: (703) 549-0137
Fax: (703) 549-0488
A letter to the USDA could also help encourage them to follow through on the finding by Miami-Dade County that the safety violations at the Seaquarium present hazards to both humans and animals. Exposed electrical wiring combined with crumbling structures at a marine park add up to severe danger of electrocution for every dolphin, sea lion, shark, fish and turtle at the Seaquarium. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service should certainly look into these concerns.
That address is:
Secretary Ann Veneman
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
14th and Independence Ave. SW
Washington DC 20250
Finally, as a courtesy we should thank the Miami-Dade County Building Dept.
Please send a thank you to:
Miami-Dade County Building Director Charles Danger
c/o the Honorable Alex Penelas
Executive Mayor, Miami-Dade County
Stephen P. Clark Center
111 NW 1st Street, Suite 2910
Miami FL 33128
Thank you once again for caring about Tokitae.