Dear Friends of Lolita
This much we know: Lolita is still a member of her extended family, known by researchers as the L25 subpod of the Southern Resident orca community in Washington and British Columbia. We know this because she still calls out in the unique dialect used only by her family. Her continued calling to her family, even after 34 years of separation from them, shows that she still remembers where she came from and where she belongs. She is still able to recognize her family's calls, and they would recognize her.
Most of you already know this. We repeat it here because we may be nearing the point when this argument will be needed to convince government agencies to allow Lolita to return to her true home.
The Sequarium is teetering on the brink of collapse. The Top Deck dolphin show has been closed for months to repair electrical and safety hazards. The whale stadium is required to reduce its attendance because it does not have sufficient public exits. The park also lacks wheelchair accessibility which violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. All this adds up to a flood of negative publicity and a public spectacle of an unsafe, dishonest, deteriorating marine park, further reducing revenues and hastening the Seaquarium's downfall.
Now there are two more major news stories, starting with a front page article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The full story is at:
Free Lolita! Bid to bring orca 'home' heats up
May 12, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Activists put squeeze on Florida aquarium
In a concrete tank beside the shallow and subtropical waters of Biscayne Bay, on a sun-drenched island dotted with coconut palms, lives a one-time resident of the deep and cold waters of Puget Sound.
Her name is Lolita. She's an orca, and her biological clock is ticking.
"People are not her family. That ought to be obvious to everyone," says crusading orca scientist Ken Balcomb, who helped (Governor) Lowry and (Secretary of State) Munro launch the campaign.
"It's been a very long shot from the beginning, but as long as she still breathes, there's still a possibility," says Howard Garrett of the Orca Network, Balcomb's half-brother, who spearheaded much of the campaign.
In recent years, scientists have come to understand that orcas have remarkable abilities, including their own sort of culture, Garrett notes, with rituals that apparently are handed down through the generations. For instance, Puget Sound's three orca families, or pods, come together periodically in ceremony-like fashion.
Garrett tried hard to persuade the Seaquarium to let L*olita go. Garrett even moved to south Florida for two years in the late '90s as part of the effort. Nothing worked.
Now the activists are changing their approach. Mother's Day vigils and disrupting the Lolita show with bullhorns or banners have given way to getting the government on their side.
Starting last year, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., activist Russ Rector began calling in government inspectors to remedy dozens of building and electrical code violations. Seaquarium officials say they are working diligently to correct those problems. On the heels of the Miami-Dade County building inspectors came those from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
(Robert) Rose (SQ's head trainer) says the "Free Willy" example proves his point. Keiko, the orca released in Iceland after languishing in a Mexican attraction, never did take up with other orcas, instead preferring to hang out around people. Keiko died last year in Norway. Alone.
Activists, though, point out an important difference with LOlita: Everyone knows that her family, the L pod, can be found at regular intervals in Washington's inland sea. She still "speaks" in the native "tongue" of Puget Sound orcas. Keiko, on the other hand, was set free hundreds of miles from where he was captured, where he was unlikely to encounter whales he could relate to.
And a stunning five-part series called "Marine Attractions: Below the Surface" began today in the Florida Sun-Sentinel, which covers all of south Florida and beyond. This marks the first in-depth look at the marine park industry to appear in major media. The first installment, dated Sunday, May 16th 2004, is almost five full pages long. The headline reads: "Not a Perfect Picture." You can see the article on the web: Sun Sentinel.com
If you would like to comment on Marine Attractions: Below The Surface, you can leave a message at 954-356-4854 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your comments may be used in subsequent reports, so please give your name and a phone number where you can be reached.
In addition, a TV news piece called "The Price They Pay for our Amusement" will air 10:PM tomorrow (Monday) night on channel 10 in the south Florida area.
The tide is truly turning as public opinion begins to see the truth about captive marine mammals in marine parks, and the Seaquarium in particular is getting swamped by the new awareness. As always, we'll keep you up to date.