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Johnny Depp and Snoop Dogg are joining forces with Harrison Ford, Fifty Cent, R&B singer Truth Hurts, and several politicians to appeal for the release of Lolita the killer whale. Currently, Lolita is being held in the Miami Seaquarium where she has been performing for about 37 years. She is now is 20 feet long, weighs 7,000 pounds, and lives in a tank that measures 80 feet across at its widest and 20 feet deep. Howard Garrett, who with Susan Berta founded the Orca Network are the organized force behind the freedom rally. From the article,

“Newsweek says Levy is working on a benefit concert that would support the Lolita movement. ‘This beautiful animal does not deserve to die in a stinky little tank, and we are not going to take less than a full victory,’ Levy told Newsweek. Garrett said it’s too early to announce any particular concert plans but admitted that ‘we’re working on it. Momentum is building,’ he said. ‘A publicity campaign is in the works being directed by people in Hollywood.’”

Organizers say that Lolita’s best chance at survival would be in the waters of San Juan Island’s Kanaka Bay, which was used to hold killer whales during the roundup days of the 1970s. She could stay with her trainers and staff from Seaquarium before acclimating and venturing off on her own. Garrett discredits those who believe she’s too tame to return to the wild saying, “The idea that she’s habituated, that she’d be totally out of her element if she were brought back, ignores the intelligence of the species and their family bonding for life.”

About Michael dEstries

Michael has been blogging since 2005 on issues such as sustainability, renewable energy, philanthropy, and healthy living. He regularly contributes to a slew of publications, as well as consulting with companies looking to make an impact using the web and social media. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his family on an apple farm.

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  • http://curiositykilledthe.com/ Brookie

    Poor Lolita.

  • Emily

    I’m with Brookie.

  • Linda

    How is it that it has taken 37 years to realise our inhumanity to other species, why does it take ‘hollywood’ to raise awareness? Free the poor whale now and stop procrastinating.

  • Ellie

    Me too. And you should really not call her a killer whale- the correct name is Orca- killer whale is misleading and negative.

  • Traci

    I live here on San Juan Island.. and everytime I see L Pod, (Lolita’s family)… I wish for nothing more than to see here be reunited with her family. I think people are underestimating this incredible species. She has survived in what I think of as a “Whale bathtub” for 37 years…. if she can survive there….. she can survive with her pod. She deserves a real chance at a real life.

  • Andrea

    Life would still be challenging if she was released but most anything is better than living in such a cramped and isolated space. I think this points to the need for an international moratorium on the capturing of whales and dolphins for the aquarium trade more than anything else. Unfortuanately dolphins are still being caught for the trade, especially by Japanese fishermen. Boycott aquariums!

  • cathy

    I disagree with all of you about the complete shut down of all aquariums….
    I can bet all of you have visited one at least once in your lifetime.
    I grew up back in the old school days when aquariums did not exist….

    That is until they built Marineland of The Pacific in Palos Verdas, Ca.
    Back in the 1960′s no one cared about whales, dolphines or any fish for that matter …unless it was on their dinner plate…which is where all these beautiful animals ended up then.
    They were poisioned, shot and harpooned ….whole pods were killed.

    The screams were even worse then in the Lolita capture footage.
    So, to get to the point….
    After whales and sea life were introduced to the public through…AQUARIUMS did the people and activists get involved in caring what happened to them.
    I remember Greenpeace and Marineland used to be on the same side of the issue…SAve THE WHALES!!!

    Now I am sure alot of you are too young to remember that campaign….
    But what hapened?
    Kids learn to love and care for animals by encountering them at zoos and aquariums…
    If you close aquairims….even the good ,responsible ones….
    in time pop culture and attitudes will change and whales will be hunted and killed once again.
    Is that what you want?

    Most scientists will credit these institions as the first place they learned about and studied wild animal behavior….many kids have grown up to be veternarians after visiting a marine park.

    Do you want to stop this?
    Also…about Lolita….
    I agree she needs a bigger tank and another orca for a friend….but I adamently disagree with releasing her at this stage of her life…
    She is the 2nd oldest whale in captivity….my love , Corky 2 is 44…I know cause I saw her the day they brought her to the aquarium…We were both little then….I think she and I were 4 ..then.

    Now imagine a lifetime of only knowing humans…and one contact with your own species….Hugo…you only know a protected world…maybe the tank is too small but other wise you are content…
    Then people come and rip you out of your tank at the ripe old age of 40…4 years younger than Corky 2 …..and dump you into the unknown….
    your family may reject you…and worse you go from being exploited as a show animal to an expoilted guinea pig
    for The Whale Research center to expiriment on.

    Yeah Right! you are probadly saying….Well then why did you not do your homework before jumping on a fad cause?

    Do any of you even care about the safety of this whale…or care that if you get your way to set her free you will kill her…send her to certain death?

    The Whale research center picked Lolita because she was perfect for an expirment they wanted to do….reguarding capture and release of a long confined whale…
    They wanted to see what would happen…
    without making sure Lolita would be safe…They said their main goal is to conduct an expirment which has never been done before.

    They have never sucsessfully realeased any orca before that was in captivity longer that 7-55 DAYS….NOT 40 Years!!!!
    Plus most of the dolphins they released had no follow up to see if their release was a success……90% are listed as “results unknown”

    Only 3% are known and 2-6 were returned to aquariums because they could not make it in the wild like Keiko (Whom died because of a weak immune system that could not tolerate his new enviroment: Just like the indians got small pox when first exposed to settlers)…

    The only success story was MarineLand of the Pacific’s pilot whale…ONE.
    She was 0nly 20….Half Lolita’s age and size.
    The odds are not in Lolita’s favor.

    Ok…so you like long shots….Well ,
    baby, this would be a miricle equal to the parting of the red sea or winning the lottery….!!!

    If you think I am lying….check out the website, call and write them….
    but be educated activists….PLEASE!!!
    Here is the info:
    Center For Whale Reasearch
    P.O Box 1577
    Friday Harbor,WA 98250
    ph#360-378-5835
    e-mail:orcasurv@rockisland.com

    Thanks,
    Activist for Greenpeace for Whales

    • Natalie

      I have never seen someone be so wrong in my life. Apart from anything else, the website you want people to email has a large list of captive cetaceans that have been released. Many of these releases were successful (including one of a *captive born* dolphin). Here’s the link: http://www.rockisland.com/~orcasurv/releases.htm

      You may want to note that the page is dedicated to Lolita, among other orcas. Make of that what you will.

      As far as your argument for aquariums making people love dolphins and whales, I will give three points: firstly, people have always loved dolphins. While aquariums may have changed the reputation of the orca, dolphins have never been seen as killers or dangerous to humans. Secondly, while chimpanzees have been kept captive for years, and were used in circuses and films, the thing that did the most for their reputation and encouraged people to protect them was Jane Goodall’s work with wild chimps. Thirdly, it’s not like we’ll just forget that orcas aren’t indiscriminate killers.

      Also, even if it were impossible for Lolita to relearn how to hunt, or if her family were to reject her, there is absolutely no question that a bay pen would be a far better situation for her than her tank. It’s ridiculously small, and she cannot properly echolocate (like all orcas). Keiko was a difficult case because his family was unknown, but Lolita’s is not. Also, he was almost completely free when he died – while he still sought out human company because he did not have his pod (in the exact same way completely wild whales Luna and Springer did, so acclimatisation was not the issue) he was able to feed himself, free to come and go as he pleased, free to make his own decisions.

      Here is my point of view. I have thoroughly researched the situation to come to this conclusion, and I think these are facts everyone should know before even considering going to any place that houses captive cetaceans. I know it’s long, but please read it fully before responding:

      Firstly, it’s not about captivity itself – the trainers obviously love the animals, they are given great veterinary care and the trainers clearly attempt to provide enrichment for them. The problem is that it is simply not enough.

       Being in those tanks stops them from fully using their echolocation, essentially robbing them of the most important sense in their world. Their hearing is so sensitive that they can hear ten kilometers in the water, and they spend all their days surrounded by blaring music and screaming children. In the wild they swim straight for miles, can cover 100 miles in a day, and dive deep – in captivity they spend their time swimming in circles, encountering wall after wall. They only sleep with one hemisphere of their brains at a time (because they need to come up for air) and they don’t even do that very much, so while they might get some stimulation during the day I don’t know how the Miami Seaquarium or any other place amuses them at night, when their trainers are asleep but the whales are not. 

       In the wild the residential type of orca (which is what all but a few in captivity are, including Lolita) stay with their mothers and families their whole lives. They have their own dialects (which means that those put together in tanks that are from separate areas probably don’t understand each other fully) and cultural traditions (look up the rubbing rocks or kelp games). This is why they don’t attack us in the wild, because they are not indiscriminate eaters – they eat what their culture dictates, and that is not us. 

       In captivity, they are not only denied their culture, but captive born animals are frequently separated from their mothers and moved between parks – and it’s not like they can call each other on the phone, once they’re separated they may as well be dead to each other.  

       They are not animals you can take for a walk, their tanks are for life. Imagine spending all your life in the same room. No matter how much stimulation you might be given by the aliens taking care of you, having your natural intelligence, social desires and ability and drive to explore a larger world stunted would be damaging. Dogs are fully domesticated, nothing in the intelligence department of orcas nor do they need even close to the same amount of exercise, and even they are supposed to be taken out every day for a free run without a lead. They love their walks because they can explore new things and new places and meet new dogs – orcas are far more complex, do you not think that they miss out by being behind walls all their lives?

       Captive orcas still die far younger and more frequently than their wild counterparts, even in the best facilities: how is this explainable when in the wild they do not get veterinary care and they have to hunt for their food? The only explanation is that there is something (or a lot of things) in their captive lives that they are lacking.

       I was taken to Seaworld by my parents when I was four years old. I do not remember it. The reason I am passionate about animals now, and have been since childhood, is not from seeing them, but because I watched nature documentaries and programs like “Animal Hospital” which was a program about a veterinary surgery where you saw both wild animals (like foxes and squirrels) and tame receive care. I had a documentary called “Killer Whales: Wolves of the Sea” which I watched over and over again. And, almost prerequisite for anyone of my generation, I saw and loved the “Free Willy” movies. I do not deny that seeing such amazing animals up close can be a powerful experience as a child, but it *should not* come at the expense of the animal’s welfare. If an animal is going to be kept captive at all the environment should be as close to its wild one as it is possible to be, and if this is unachievable they should not be kept captive at all. If we want to see a wild animal at our own convenience, it should be on our computers and in our living rooms (something you didn’t have when you were younger, and something that has changed the game completely, since anyone with a computer or a television can find out up to date, accurate information on wild animals). If we have a burning desire to see cetaceans in the flesh it should be in the wild, where they have everything they need, not in captivity, where they suffer so we don’t have to make the effort.

       Finally, I do not argue against captivity for cetaceans because I’m some idiot who thinks that orcas are beaten and starved. I argue against it because we can never provide what these animals need by keeping them in concrete tanks doing tricks. The holy grail of creating an environment for a captive animal is to make it as close as possible to the animal’s natural one. There’s no way we can emulate the lives of such creatures effectively, no way we can give them everything they have in the wild; after all, how would we recreate the ocean? Therefore, they should not be kept captive, and if they cannot be released then at least costal sanctuaries will allow them to swim far, explore new scenery and use their echolocation. Risking the mental health of an animal because we somehow feel we should be able to see them at our convenience? That’s what’s wrong. We do not have the “right” to see orcas, it’s a privilege, and one we abuse by keeping them in conditions so wrong for them.  Cetaceans are not designed for captivity – they’re too big, too clever, too social, too in need of their echolocation and far too wide ranging to ever be suited to life in concrete tanks surrounded by walls. 

      • http://www.veganjapan.net herwin

        Cathy is quite wrong, aquaria (or zoo’s) arent responsible that people en masse started to care about dolhins, or other animals. that has to be credited to the television and nature documentaires, like the early Walt Disney nature docs, who did bring nature and animals from all over the world into many people’s home. Instead of animal in a cage where visitors only can stare at a bored animal (“freakshows”), these docs gave exciting views of animals in their natural habitat with, very important, somebody talking about the animal like their behaviour. From this came an general eco awarenes resulting in protection for animals that until than had been food for the hunters gun, like lion, elephant, etc.
        it was , and are, dedicated people like sir David Attenborough who dedicated his life to educating the public with his smashing eco docs that boomed an awarenes and love for the animals and nature of this planet.
        and now people are finally getting aware that zoos are nothing but retarded Freak Shows, Prisons for innocent animals who spend their life in boredom and sadnes, and its great and justice if all these sick places close asap.

  • Jo Masey

    I would give anything to see her free.

  • http://www.myspace.com/christian461 christian perez

    cathy,
    your views on lolita being to old and all that has nothing to do with how MSQ keeps her and other animals in that pool.she is forced to live with those dolphins and interact with her trainers i’d do the same if i wanted food.
    ive been to MSQ sooo many times and i have had channel 4 news supporting me if by any chance i got quicked out of the park…
    msq will tell you that lolita is happy and we cant move her to a new tank cause it could be dangerous and could kill her!
    BULLLLL!!!!! they just dont want to waste $20,000,000 on a new orca stadium cuz they know no other facility is giving them another orca so there not even gonna bother…i gotta admit the trainers arent the bad guys ITS THE PEOPLE THAT ARE HOLDING BACK THE PERMISSION FOR A NEW HABITAT FOR LOLITA! (staff)
    lolita will do great in a new pool she’ll love it….and if you dont believe me that her pool cant be atatched and be expanded? i have the picture! of when her pool was once a circular tank and is currently now shapped as a fish bowl (with two edges at the ends) if you want to see the picture and want proof it is possible for her tank to be expanded contact me @
    http://www.myspace.com/christian461

    -christian anthony perez