Advocates gather for Miami Seaquarium's lonely orca Lolita

Posted Oct 17, 2013 by Elizabeth Batt
Lolita, the sole killer whale at a Floridian marine park, received another boost last week as advocates held a last-minute rally to plead her case to Dateline, one of Australia's longest-running international current affairs programs.
The protest, which took place Oct. 10, resulted after researchers with SBS Dateline Australia, reached out to Barbara Napoles, an animal rights activist and administrator with Save the Blood Dolphins.
The current affairs program, which was focusing on orca conservation, particularly captivity issues across the US and Canada, wished to feature current and ongoing protests. Researchers with the show specifically wanted to focus on Lolita, one of the longest-held orcas in the world.
Lolita's case is a unique one
Frequently recognized as a killer whale most likely to be successfully rehabilitated and released, Lolita (or Tokitae, as advocates prefer to call her) is the last surviving orca of about 45 members of the Southern Resident community who underwent a brutal capture that killed several others.
As one of the first whales in the roundup that captured orcas for display in marine parks between 1965 and 1973, Toki has not seen another orca in more than 30 years. For more than 40 years, she has resided in a 35-foot tank (many say illegally-sized), at Miami Seaquarium in Florida.
Ironically, Ocean Sun (L 25), Toki's mother, is still very much alive and swimming freely with other members of L Pod. In 2005, the Southern Resident Killer Whales were listed as an endangered species. Lolita was excluded from the status, because she was caught pre-act. Orca advocates have been fighting to have Toki included ever since.
According to The Orca Network who have co-driven the petition with PETA to have Lolita granted ESA protection, the orca's inclusion under the ESA has a terrific chance of being successful. If she were to be included, then the orca must be accorded the same legal protections provided to her extended family. The group hopes to eventually implement a long-standing rehabilitation plan for Toki.
For Napoles, Lolita's case has haunted her for years
According to Champions for Cetaceans, Lolita's situation is an issue close to Napoles heart.
So the opportunity to plead the orca's case on an Australian prime news program was not one to be missed. With just one week until the film crew arrived, the activist had issued a call to action to everyone in the Florida and South Florida areas.
"The response was amazing!" Napoles told Digital Journal. "Activists from both coasts converged in Miami," she said, "they carpooled, took off for a few hours from work just to be there." More than 50 people rallied for Tokitae on short notice, catching the aquarium off guard.
The Cove star interviewed for Australian show
Lolita had another strong voice in the crowd, that of veteran dolphin advocate Ric O'Barry, a former dolphin trainer at the Miami Seaquarium.
The Cove star  Ric O Barry  is interviewed for Dateline  an Australian current affairs show.
The Cove star, Ric O'Barry, is interviewed for Dateline, an Australian current affairs show.
Barbara Napoles
After spending 10 years at the aquarium, seven of them training the dolphins for the hit television series, Flipper, O'Barry realized that captivity for these sentient animals was wrong.
Having evolved into advocacy, O'Barry formed the Dolphin Project and championed for cetacean rights. With more than 40 years of activism under his belt now, Miami Seaquarium has remained firmly in the The Cove star's crosshairs.
Napoles told DJ she was delighted to welcome O'Barry to their rally. "I felt very blessed that I was able to pull this event together," she said. "If it was not for the great animal rights people in Florida this would not have happened." The activist added that she would always be grateful to those who chose to participate.
With representatives from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), ARFF (Animal Rights Foundation of Florida), The Orca Network and Fins and Fluke, Tokitae was well represented.
Heather Murphy, the Vice President of the organization Fins and Fluke said that she was "overwhelmed by all the support for Lolita on such short notice, particularly the enthusiasm from the children." She also extended her "thanks to the film crew from Australia for documenting the event and passing her story across the world."
Ric O Barry (L) began his career as a dolphin trainer at Miami Seaquarium. He has been advocating fo...
Ric O'Barry (L) began his career as a dolphin trainer at Miami Seaquarium. He has been advocating for cetacean rights for over 40 years.
Barbara Napoles
Inside the facility, as Toki performed the same stunts seen three times a day, 365 days a year for 43 years, the solitary orca remained unaware of the external battle to seek her freedom. As the only survivor of an estimated 58 orcas snatched from Puget Sound, "she deserves to go home," said Murphy.
Being a first time visitor to Miami Seaquarium, the cetacean advocate said she found it disturbing that the open ocean is literally in the park's backyard. "It doesn't make any sense to me," Murphy said, "to have an animal captive that you could freely see from right next door," she explained.
There is hope for Lolita say activists
As the fight for Tokitae's freedom continues, advocates remain optimistic that more people will shun captivity for cetaceans. Documentaries such as The Cove and Blackfish, which premieres on CNN October 24th, are rapidly becoming the voice for all captive cetaceans.
Meanwhile, David Kirby's excellent book: Death at SeaWorld, has paved the way for arguments against killer whales in captivity. By sharing the distinct lifestyles between captive orcas and their wild counterparts, Kirby's book pierced the pomp and circumstance of cetacean exhibits, and exposed the industry from the inside, out.
"I am hopeful that as future generations hear her story, captivity will be a thing of the past and people will stop visiting places like Miami Seaquarium and supporting Lolita's sad situation," said Heather Murphy. "In my opinion, she is one of the best candidates for release," the advocate added, "and we will not stop spreading her story and applying pressure in Miami to do the right thing."