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article imageOp-Ed: Orca Network recounts Lolita's story at Superpod Three Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Aug 5, 2014 in Environment
Friday Harbor - Still reeling from over a decade of captures between 1962 to 1973, the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) populations face significant recovery issues. The carnage wreaked upon them by the "orca cowboys", is embodied by one solitary orca, Lolita.
On July 16, 2014, Howard Garrett of the Orca Network, stood before a full house at The Whale Museum and told the story of Lolita, the only SRKW still alive in captivity following a barbaric series of roundups for profit.
Located almost 3,400 miles away from her home waters and her family, Lolita, currently housed at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida, is a member of L-Pod, one of three clans that encompass the Southern Residents, J-Pod and K-Pod being the other two.
She is the last captive witness to a series of roundups conducted primarily by just two men: Don Goldsberry and Ted Griffin of Namu, Inc. Since her capture as a juvenile on August 8, 1970, Lolita has performed three times a day for 44 years, notching up over 48,000 performances for the aquarium during her lifetime. Yet few visitors who pay the $39.95 entry fee can know of Lolita's history, because it's impossible to imagine them parting with their cash if they did.
The capture years
A newly published book by Sandra Pollard describes the capture years and Lolita's story in significant detail. 'Puget Sound Whales for Sale. The Fight to End Orca Hunting', is both comprehensive and stomach churning. One cannot help but conclude that the duo of Goldsberry and Griffin, could rival the villainy portrayed in Shakespeare's, 'Macbeth':
"Out, damned spot! Out, I say! ... What, will these hands ne'er be clean?"
Yet Pollard writes that neither man ever truly expressed remorse for their actions. Goldsberry, who admitted that his biggest customer was SeaWorld, said he was there simply, "to make a dollar." Even as public opposition over the captures grew, Namu, Inc. bowed its neck and argued that the dissension was the result of, "A small group of dissidents, trying to get its own way". The irony here, is the message has not changed. Marine parks may have refined it, but it remains an argument still used by captive cetacean keepers.
Pollard tapped oodles of sources to piece together a complicated history. It is a history that still poses just as many questions as answers. Following the paper trail admirably given that documentation was not of the caliber seen today, the author presents a damning case. Tracking the final tally of Namu Incorporated's haul of Southern Resident whales however, remains elusive. Nobody knew how many whales populated the area back then.
The Center for Whale Research believes, "at least 13 whales were killed during these captures, while 45 whales were delivered to marine parks around the world." NOAA Fisheries in this paper, states, "approximately 47 animals were removed before 1974 from the SRKW population, nearly all of them juveniles." Namu, Inc records recorded 192 whales captured in total with thirty-three animals kept, and nine dying.
After researchers expressed concerns about orca population numbers in 1976, SeaWorld's then Vice President, Lanny Cornell, produced his own arguments. In this paper, published in the Aquatic Mammals Journal, Cornell concluded that while, "captive management of the killer whale" was still improving, it "has been extremely successful."
Yet all of the Southern Residents captured during the 1960s and 70s are dead, and only Lolita remains alive today. The rest, Pollard tells us, "had all died by 1987." Remarkably, L-25, or 'Ocean Sun' is now in her 80s and rumored to be Lolita's mother. But she is in a subgroup of one. After Namu, Inc. captured Lolita, they terminated a matriline, and Ocean Sun has no immediate family members within L-Pod.
Lolita's Story
Nobody has been more persistent in telling Lolita's story than Howard Garrett of the Orca Network. Since 1995, the conservation group has led the charge for release of the solitary killer whale, back to her home waters. During Superpod Three week, Garrett offered an update on the fight to see Lolita retired and rehabilitated. He firmly believes that Lolita (or Tokitae as she was originally named), still very much remembers her family.
"There's a lot of indication that they [the whales] are bonded for life," Garrett said. "Their world is basically their family. Their togetherness is their home." He then refers to Lolita's calls, which were recorded in 1992 and classified as L-Pod calls.
In 1995, Ken Balcomb of The Center for Whale Research, joined with Governor Mike Lowry and Secretary of State Ralph Munroe, to announce the start of the Lolita campaign. Garrett formed the Orca Network with Susan Berta in 2001 to champion the whale's cause. Over the years, the efforts for Lolita have ramped up significantly, placing pressure on both the Seaquarium and the government agency responsible for her well being.
One of the primary arguments raised for Lolita, is that she remains in the same pool since her capture. Advocates argue that the pool size is in direct violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). It isn't the only violation committed by the Seaquarium said Garrett. "The three most egregious," he explained, are "pool size, the fact that she's alone, and she has no shade from the Miami sun."
Application and adherence to the Animal Welfare Act is monitored by APHIS or the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. As an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), APHIS is responsible for ensuring that facilities achieve AWA compliance through annual inspections. Despite repeated violations by the Seaquarium, Garrett said, "APHIS permits this aquarium every year."
The aquarium has been promising to build Lolita a new tank since 1978. It has never materialized. Pollard tells us that in 1999, Arthur Hertz, the owner of facility at the time, announced that Lolita's new tank would be constructed in six months. It wasn't.
This video uploaded by a visitor to the Seaquarium in 2011, really highlights the size of the tank in comparison to Lolita's size. The central walkway used by the trainers is an area APHIS includes in determining the tank size. However, it is a solid structure, and Lolita can neither swim through it or beneath it.
Another video on YouTube nails the scope of Lolita's confinement. Uploaded by Kevin White, it is a Super 8mm film of Lolita, captured by his father in 1971:
White writes beneath the recording, "It's hard to believe that this same whale is still there performing everyday."
But she is, and she does.
Having a comprehensive plan in place to retire Lolita to her native habitat, the Orca Network and other groups have also approached Lolita's case from a legal perspective.
The latest legal challenge, and one of the most important, addresses Lolita's exclusion from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Due to its small population size (currently 80 members), and the slow recovery of the Southern Residents post capture, NMFS listed the whales as endangered under the ESA in 2005. Unjustifiably, Garrett told the crowd, somebody also inserted the following passage into the listing, thus excluding Lolita:
Does not include killer whales . . . placed in captivity prior to listing, nor does it include their captive born progeny.
Garrett believes the wording was inserted "as a favor to the industry", simply because it was absent rational or real justification. The Orca Network, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), several individuals, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), rose to challenge Lolita's exclusion.
Submitting a twenty-five-page document, the coalition argued that Lolita was, "the only captive member of any endangered species to be summarily excluded from a listing decision in this manner." Furthermore, they argued, NMFS had failed to notify the public about Lolita's exclusion, granting no, "opportunity for public comment."
The proposal was successful, with NMFS pledging to consider Lolita's inclusion under the ESA. In Jan. 2014, a public comment period was iniated via the Federal Register. Thousands of comments were submitted on Lolita's behalf.
So what now?
Howard Garrett of the Orca Network discusses Lolita s tank size during a presentation held at The Wh...
Howard Garrett of the Orca Network discusses Lolita's tank size during a presentation held at The Whale Museum.
Jennifer Steven
If Lolita is granted endangered status under the act, advocates argue, then NMFS will have further decisions to make. Garrett explained during his presentation, that as a Southern Resident, if Lolita, "becomes a federally protected animal," then NMFS will have to decide, "where is she better off?"
Furthermore, under federal protection argued Dr. Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, Lolita's treatment at the Miami Seaquarium could, "qualify as harassment under the ESA."
Meanwhile, the coalition for Lolita's campaign continues to sue the USDA over its repeated permitting of the Miami Seaquarium despite its persistent violation of the AWA.
Garrett explained that Lolita's ESA inclusion decision is due by Jan 2015. "All the legal precedence says that yes, she will be included," he added.
It could pose a problem for the new owners of the Miami Seaquarium. Hertz, who has made millions from the cetaceans held at the park, further feathered his nest this year after selling the facility to California-based Palace Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Spanish theme park operator Parques Reunidos. The deal was estimated to be worth $30 million.
Just last month, the Seaquarium was fined $7,000 by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for allowing trainers to work with Lolita minus sufficient protections. The fine stemmed from an OSHA versus SeaWorld trial in which a federal judge ruled that trainers must be protected by physical barriers during shows. The ruling came after the death of senior trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by the orca Tilikum, in 2010.
The ALDF submitted the complaint to the federal agency after videoing trainers performing with Lolita on May 10, 2014.
Garrett says that often, one of the biggest questions posed, is whether Lolita would remember her family if she was returned to her native waters. In 1996, 26 years after her capture, Dateline NBC offered Lolita the chance to listen to her family's calls. The L-Pod sounds captured by researcher Ken Balcomb, certainly piqued Lolita's interest:
On August 8, the Orca Network will host the their Penn Cove Orca Capture Anniversary Commemoration. It will be the 44th anniversary of Lolita's capture from her family. A wreath ceremony will remember the orcas raided from Puget Sound and talks about the captures will undoubtedly dominate the day.
Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the commemoration will also include a long sought-after celebration.
Members of Lolita s clan: Marina L47 and Ophelia L27. Identified by Melisa Pinnow of San Juan Excurs...
Members of Lolita's clan: Marina L47 and Ophelia L27. Identified by Melisa Pinnow of San Juan Excursions.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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