Time is running out for a solitary orca held at Miami Seaquarium. Lolita, also called Tokitae, was one of the first whales in a brutal roundup that captured orcas for display in marine parks between 1965 and 1973.
Lolita is the last surviving orca of about 45 members of the Southern Resident community who underwent a brutal capture that saw several other orcas perish in the attempt. For more than 40 years, she has resided in a 35-foot tank (many say illegally-sized), at Miami Seaquarium in Florida.
Lolita has not seen another orca in more than 30 years. Her once companion orca, Hugo, died after repeatedly hitting his head against the tank walls. Yet in the wild, her mother still lives writes Candace Calloway Whiting at Seattle Pi:
On June 18th, the Victoria, B.C. SpringTide Whale Tours reported watching Ocean Sun (L 25) the mother of the captive orca Lolita, catch fish with her companion, Mega (L 41). It must have been thrilling, yet whenever Ocean Sun is seen, thoughts inevitably turn to the circumstances of her daughter's capture and subsequent confinement at Miami Seaquarium.Lolita excluded from the Endangered Species Act
In 2005, the Southern Residents were listed as an endangered species. According to Whiting, under the ESA listing, this included, "any member of J, K, or L pods' in captivity." Yet Lolita was excluded, Whiting added, "because she was caught 'pre-act'."
A petition filed jointly by the Animal Defense League Fund, PETA and The Orca Network asking that Lolita be included with her family in the ESA, was accepted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on Apr. 24, 2013.
The petition claims that the orca known as Lolita was illegally exempted from ESA status. According to a US Fish & Wildlife Services FAQ, the law didn't allow the use of exemptions for wildlife held for a commercial activity:
"Species held in captivity or in a controlled environment on (a) December 28, 1973, or (b) the date of publication in the Federal Register for final species listing, whichever is later, are exempt from prohibitions of the ESA, provided such holding or any subsequent holding or use of the specimen was not in the course of a commercial activity (any activity that is intended for profit or gain)."
Time running out for public comment period on Lolita's future
Under the law, Federal agencies are required to publish notices of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register. This allows citizens to participate in the decision making process of the Government. The last chance for public comment on Lolita's case is midnight tomorrow, June 28.
According to The Orca Network, the petition for Lolita to be granted ESA protection has a terrific chance of being successful. If it should be, they say, Lolita, "must be accorded all the legal protections provided to her extended family. That would mean that her incarceration in a concrete box for the benefit of the entertainment industry would henceforth be illegal."
Conservation groups therefore, are making a last ditch effort to ask the public to speak out on the orca's behalf before the comment period ends tomorrow.
Barbara Napoles of Save the Blood Dolphins recently visited Lolita and captured the following footage:
"I have still not gotten over seeing her," Napoles told me. "Her time is running out and that is what is breaking my heart. I dont want to ever read that she died in captivity," she said. Now, the dolphin activist is urging all those concerned about Lolita's future to leave a comment before the deadline ends at Regulations.gov.
Lolita's Public Service Announcement (top) was produced by Daniel Azarian and Underdog Entertainment. 'Save Lolita the Orca' PSA was a finalist at the 2012 Blue Ocean Film Festival.
Video of Lolita's capture can be seen below. During her capture, killer whale pods were pounded with bombs and several orcas drowned. The whale catchers were ordered to slit the bellies of the dead orcas and insert weights to stop them from washing up along local shores. This act led to the State of Washington banning SeaWorld from ever capturing killer whales in its waters again.
NMFS maintains that one of the reasons the SRKW's achieved endangered status, is because the pods are still recovering from this mass orca roundup.