Envisioning a Happy Ending for Lolita

For the past few days my facebook feed has been inundated with posts concerning the protest on the behalf of Lolita, the imprisoned southern Resident orca at the Miami Seaquarium. The activism and awareness spurred from the documentary Blackfish continues to gain momentum and the pressure continues to mount on those that guard the tanks.

The scene of Lolita breaching in cold north pacific waters surrounded by her family, the San Juan islands in the background is certainly a powerful, and romantic one. An image and ending almost too good to be true. Yet we are many steps away from that reality, and on borrowed time.

The conversation unfortunately begins and ends with those that, for legal purposes, “own” Lolita. The proposals seem to be gravitating toward the idea of the aquarium deciding that the time has come to retire Lolita from the show business as a way of thanking her for her decades as a forced laborer. Some have suggested the positive media coverage would offset the loss of those that attend the aquarium solely to see the orca. It would be an incredible gesture, and sadly, a dramatic change in philosophy. She remains a massive source of income for them and it seems unlikely they would willingly part with her.

Just last year a U.S district judge threw out a case proposed by the orca network, PETA, and others protesting the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) renewal of the aquarium’s license. Claiming that the marine parks tank was too small and in violation of the USDAs standards. The case was dismissed as the judge determined the animal welfare act (AMA) did not specify requirements for those already holding USDA permits. It is a frustrating and despicable minefield of red tape and bureaucracy that now seems firmly on the aquarium’s side. There appears to be no hope in the near future of government intervention forcing the release of Lolita.

Meanwhile National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is proposing Lolita be included in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since she remains a member of the Southern Resident Population. Public comment closes on the 24th of this month, if she does indeed qualify as a protected member of the population, the hope is that she would no longer be allowed to be used as a revenue stream. Should the motion pass, I’m confident the aquarium would fight tooth and nail to ensure that she remains where she is. A long legal battle would probably ensue, where, as we know, the system moves very slowly. The courts have already sided with the aquarium once for much flimsier reasons and I’m hesitant to believe that they would redeem themselves this time. I pray I’m wrong.

Which leads us back to the aquarium doing it on their own. Yes, Sea World stock is plummeting, marine park public opinion is at an all time low, and yet, Sea World’s response seems to be to throw more money at the problem and I imagine Miami’s response would be the same. It continues to confound me what my fellow man will do for profit but it is most likely the only voice that they will answer to. We must continue to ensure that revenue continues to fall, in hopes that they realize they must cut their losses and salvage what public opinion they can. They must reach a point however, where the cost of keeping Lolita is higher than what she brings in. It feels so taboo, dishonorable to make Lolilta’s case come down to money, but I fear it’s the only outcome with a happy ending.

So we will protest, we will hold signs and picket. Give copies of Blackfish to our friends that continue to attend the parks. Support animal advocacy groups, volunteer, and write our congressmen. Real change is happening and I pray that it comes before it is too late for Lolita, Corky, and the others.

The best case scenario may be a net pen, the waters of Juan de Fuca on her skin. After forty years of swimming in slow circles, it would be a miracle to see her travel hundreds of miles with her natal pod. She could hear the calls of her family, her relatives, and maybe remember what it means to be a wild whale after all these years. It’s hard to admit that she may have changed irrevocably, who wouldn’t after all those years alone. I may never buy a ticket to an aquarium, but would happily hand over my money to stand on the shore and see her in a cove, on the open water. No corny music, no tricks, no bleachers, no applause. Just a whale trying to be a whale again, chasing fish, and vocalizing without fear of the calls echoing off concrete walls. And know that the age of captivity, is coming to an end.


5 thoughts on “Envisioning a Happy Ending for Lolita”

  1. Loved the post. I too, want whats right for all the mammals in tanks around the world. Ive been writing every month for 6 yrs to any & all officials in Florida, hoping that someday it’ll come down to a moral decision and not continue with to be about the almighty dollar.
    Recently, I attended the Free Lolita Solidarity March in Seattle. I was happy to see the turnout but on the same note, with a population of over 5 million people in Western Washington, I had hoped there would be thousands that would attend. Do they not know? Dont they care? Have they no respect or compassion for anyone or anything but themselves? It was a little disheartening but I refuse to give up. I’ll be back in Seattle for the Empty The Tanks March and I’m bringing friends! Loved ypur post and Im going to share. Educate the people, stand up for whats right and…. NEVER let the bad people win!

    1. Hi Stephanie. I think there’s an apathetic feeling flowing through our country, especially when it comes to public protest.

      There’s a feeling, for whatever reason, that public protest is useless or isn’t effective, which isn’t true.

      Educating those around us is the most important, whether they chose to hold a sign or picket or not. If we convince people, they in turn, would hopefully share with others and the domino effect slowly begins to trickle through society.

  2. David this story was so beautifully written. Especially the last part where your empathy and total understanding really came through. Thank you for writing this. I met Lolita when I was on an elementary school class trip in the 70s. The place has not changed and the owners never cared. It’s barbaric. My first protest 20 years ago was at MSQ for her release 20 years ago. What’s really amazing are the dedicated folks still outside the Miami Seaquarium every weekend for years protesting this. About 1,000 showed up for the Miracle March and that was also inspiring. I hope everyday that this will really be a new beginning for her and this chapter closed. Thanks for writing such a lovely story and headline. Fingers crossed.

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