'Save Lolita' Public Service Announcement courtesy: Underdog Entertainment
Several groups are attempting to retire Lolita from her tank, which violates Department of Agriculture size regulations at the Miami Seaquarium, to a more humane existence. The Orca Network has proposed a plan to retire Lolita to a transitional ocean sanctuary in her native waters in the Pacific Northwest.
Please visit the Orca Network to learn how you can take action to Save Lolita and Fight for her Freedom.
Photograph courtesy of: Wallie V. Funk Photographs, Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham WA 98225-9123
On August 8, 1970, in the waters of the Puget Sound of Washington State, a pod of killer whales was attacked and rounded up by a group of killer whale herders led by Ted Griffiths and Don Goldsberry. Using speedboats, and an airplane, and releasing explosives into the water, they forced the orcas into Penn Cove. The juvenile orcas were separated from their mothers, as the infants were prime candidates to be sold to aquariums, while the adult orcas were released and free to leave. However, the adult pod would not leave their offspring and refused to swim free, vocalizing human-like cries until the last baby was pulled out of the water, never to return. One adult and four infant orcas were killed during this capture. In an attempt to keep the orca deaths from the public, the industry instructed the herders to slit open the bellies of the dead animals, fill them with rocks, and sink the creatures with anchors, hoping they would never be discovered. Because of the large number of violent orcas captured by the marine park industry in Washington State waters, an entire generation of orcas was eliminated. As a result, this orca population is now considered an endangered species.
One of the orca infants captured was a four-year-old named Tokitae, who was sold to the Miami Seaquarium. She arrived at the marine park on September 24, 1970, where she was renamed 'Lolita' and has lived there ever since. She performs tricks during her scheduled shows and has done so for the past forty-six years.
Lolita's tank is the size of a hotel swimming pool.
It is now known that killer whales are incredibly intelligent, sentient, and social creatures. Resident killer whales from the Pacific Northwest, which Lolita is classified as, stay with their mothers their entire lives. Lolita's mother, known as L25, is still alive today at approximately 90 years old and is photographed regularly by scientists and conservation organizations. Lolita currently lives alone with no other killer whale companions. When not performing in her show, Lolita floats listlessly in her tank. In the wild, killer whales swim hundreds of miles daily, diving as deep as 500 feet. In her tank, she swims in circles inside the 35-foot wide area and can only go as deep as 20 feet in a small area in the center of the tank.
Lolita is the oldest living killer whale in captivity, in the smallest orca tank in the country.
They were entrapped in a small area, they were flailing in the air. You could hear a high-pitched squeal and they were communicating with many, many more that were outside the net in Penn Cove.”
- Wallie Funk
These are actual photographs of Lolita and her family taken by photographer Wallie Funk during the Penn Cove Capture on August 8, 1970, in the waters of Washington State. The photographs were taken after Ted Griffiths and Don Goldsberry had herded the orcas into Penn Cove using speedboats, an airplane, and explosives. Five orcas died as a result of this capture.
All photographs courtesy of Wallie V. Funk Photographs, Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9123
Since her capture in 1970, Lolita has been kept in a tank that violates the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) standards for size requirements. APHIS is an operating unit of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Lolita is approximately 21 feet long and 7,000 pounds. Per the guidelines, the tank for a killer whale the size of Lolita must be at least 48 feet wide in either direction with a straight line of travel across the middle. Lolita’s tank is only 35 feet wide from the front wall to the slide-out (work island) barrier*. It is 20 feet deep at the deepest point and a mere 12 feet deep around the edges. The Miami Seaquarium needs significant repairs, and per the Marine Mammal Inventory Report, it has a substantial death rate for its animals.
Per the guidelines:
The primary enclosure for a Killer whale (Orcinus orca) must have a minimum horizontal dimension of no less than 48 ft. in either direction with a straight line of travel across the center.
Each marine mammal requires its own minimum space regardless of age.
Only enclosures that meet the minimum space requirements may be used for permanent housing purposes. [3.104(a)]
Minimum Horizontal Dimension [3.104(c)(1)]. The MHD is the diameter of a circular pool of water.
The required MHD is two times the average adult length of the longest species housed in the pool.
Depth [3.104(c)(2)] The minimum depth of the pool must be: 5 feet OR ½ the average adult length of the longest species housed therein, whichever is greater (see Table III**)
*It is important to note that the work island barrier is a solid structure that continues from the water's surface to the bottom of the pool. That is, Lolita cannot swim under it. APHIS has recently stated that this work island is a floating formation that Lolita can swim underneath. This is incorrect. Please see this photograph of Lolita’s tank without any water in it. The work island's sides (base) extend to the pool's bottom. Also, if the work island were floating, it would not be able to support the weight of Lolita (approx. 7,000 lbs.), as she entirely rests on it during her show.
**(Per Table III of the guidelines, the average adult length to factor for Orcinus orca ‘Killer whale’ is 24.0 feet.
DOWNLOAD APHIS TANK REGULATIONS
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and Howard Garrett of the Orca Network have devised a plan to retire Lolita to her home waters of Washington state. Lolita will not be completely “set free in the wild” after being in captivity for so long. The plan centers on placing Lolita in a transitional coastal sanctuary sea pen where she will be rehabilitated under human care. When the time is right, she will be given the choice of returning to open waters if she desires. She will be monitored all the time by veterinary staff to ensure she receives the best health care.
Lolita will be transported by a cargo airplane to a cove by the San Juan Islands in Washington State. She will continue to be fed by humans and given time to get used to her new home. Then the process of rehabilitation will begin. Lolita will be taught how to eat live fish and follow a boat, which will take her out of the sea pen for “walks” to get her used to the open ocean. The walks will get longer and longer, all the time gauging the progress of the rehab as to how well Lolita is doing.
Once rehabilitated, an effort would be made to reintroduce Lolita to her natural family (pod). Researchers know precisely who Lolita’s family are and where they travel. The whales that belong to Lolita’s family, the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs), are one of the most studied orca populations in the world. Experts believe that Lolita’s natural mother is the orca known as (L25) “Ocean Sun.” L25 is regularly photographed quite frequently in the Puget Sound and monitored, as are all the Southern Resident Killer Whales. This makes the Lolita plan so strong, Lolita’s natural pod is alive and well, so she has a family to return home to.
If, for any reason, Lolita is not ready to be released into the open water, she can stay in the bay indefinitely, receive human care for the rest of her life, and have the actual ocean to live in. All of this is in an area hundreds of times larger than her 35-foot wide tank, where she currently resides in Miami. She would not have to perform tricks, swim in circles, or be near the blaring music played during her shows in her concrete tank.
View the official Orca Network Plan Proposal for Lolita.
Lolita’s tank size, as well as other issues surrounding her care, are a clear violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), an arm of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), is the government agency responsible for implementing the Animal Welfare Act. APHIS has been contacted about Lolita’s condition, and they continue to respond that her tank and the Miami Seaquarium are not violating the AWA. Please see the breakdown below for the violations.
1. Lolita’s Tank Size (Space requirements for Orca) Lolita’s tank is oval, 35 feet by 80 feet. APHIS claims their tank measurements show it to be 60 feet by 80 feet. This is incorrect. (Please note that this does NOT include a small medical pool behind a concrete barrier in the center of the tank. APHIS, by their own admission, does not have the medical tank in their measurements)
You may go to Google Maps or Google Earth and enter the Seaquarium’s address (4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL, 33149) to view an aerial view of Lolita’s tank and measure it. You will see it is clearly 35 feet x 80 feet.
Per AWA guidelines, the tank’s 35-foot measurement is not large enough.
2. Perimeter Fence & Protection from Abuse and Harassment Lolita’s pool does not meet AWA requirements to keep animals and unauthorized people out, nor does it provide protection from abuse and harassment by the viewing public.
3. Protection from Weather and Direct Sunlight Lolita is not afforded protection from the weather or from direct sunlight as is required by the AWA.
4. Housing with Compatible Animals Lolita has not been in the company of another orca since 1980. This highly social animal lives in relative solitude as the AWA is interpreted to accept her dolphin tank mates as an adequate replacement for a member of her own species.
5. Pool Environment Enhancements Non-food objects are utilized in Lolita’s pool for stimulation which may subject her to injury through ingestion; another AWA violation.
6. Emergency Contingency Plans The well-being of Lolita and the other marine mammals are at the mercy of the toxic remnants of the Gulf oil spill, sewage contamination in Biscayne Bay, and hurricane threats. APHIS has neglected to enforce AWA Emergency Contingency Plan requirements.
We suggest contacting APHIS with the six Animal Welfare Act violations listed above.
Willie D. Harris, Eastern Regional Director
USDA – APHIS Animal Care
920 Main Campus Drive-Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27606
(919) 855-7200 – Office
(919) 855-7215 – Fax
Administrator Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services
4700 River Road
Riverdale, MD 20737
Monday-Friday - 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET
Contact the Secretary of Agriculture:
You may also email Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, with the same concerns:
Contact the Office of the Inspector General:
The Office of the Inspector General has a “Hotline” for reporting violations related to USDA programs, such as; fraud, employee misconduct, mismanagement, conflict of interest, etc. The hotline tips can be submitted online, by email, phone, or by mail. Click on this link to the OIG’s hotline and report APHIS’s inaction: http://www.usda.gov/oig/hotline.htm
Contact your senator or government representatives:
We also suggest contacting your senator or government representatives.
Contact the new owners of the Seaquarium:
In addition, you can contact the new owners of the Seaquarium and let your voice be heard
The Dolphin Company
Lote 8, Mz. 1, Sm. 13
Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Phone: +52 (998) 881-7400
For media inquiries:
+52 (998) 881-7400 Ext. 10123
APRIL 1, 2023 UPDATE:
Several mainstream media outlets are reporting that The Miami Seaquarium is partnering with Jim Irsay, owner of the NFL football team, the Indianapolis Colts, and the non-profit Friends of Lolita to send Lolita to a sea pen sanctuary and eventual release. We do not have any further details or verification of this information other than what the media has reported. We will continue to update this site when more details become available. Until then, please see the following links:
JUNE 08 2017 UPDATE - In a report released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General, an audit of Lolita’s tank found that it “may not meet all space requirements defined by the agency’s [Animal Welfare Act] regulations.” The decision is due in part to the trainers' work island. The USDA inspector stated: "This enclosure is essentially two pools. In this scenario, the largest pool would only have an MHD of 35 feet; this falls short of the minimum requirements for an orca.”
This is the first time since Lolita was captured and placed captive at the Miami Seaquarium that the United States government has admitted that Lolita’s tank may not meet the Animal Welfare Act regulations. The facts, as opposed to the interpretation of the regulations, are no longer in debate. However, it appears the suggestion of the agency, instead of considering that Lolita be retired to a seaside sanctuary, allegedly is to adjust the requirements, so Lolita can stay where she is. You can read more on the report at The Miami Herald.
JULY 01 2016 — An appeal has been filed for the ESA lawsuit indicated below in the June 1, 2016 update.
June 01, 2016 — Federal judge Ursula Ungaro dismissed the lawsuit filed on Lolita’s behalf by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Orca Network. claiming that the subpar conditions in Lolita’s tiny tank were a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). PETA Foundation Director of Animal Law Jared Goodman said the judge, “interpreted the act to not protect captive endangered animals from anything but imminent death, and there is simply no basis for that in the law." You can read more details about this decision on TakePart. Please see the Sequarium contacts above (Parques Reunidos Group and Arle Captial Partners Limited) on how you can let your voice be heard.
May 18, 2016 — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Animal Defense Fund and the Orca Network filed a lawsuit in the U.S. district court in North Carolina. The plaintiffs argue the U.S. Department of Agriculture is violating the Animal Welfare Act by granting a license to the Seaquarium’s new parent company, Palace Entertainment. Under the act, licenses don’t transfer after a change in ownership (Palace bought the Seaquarium in 2014) and can only be granted to facilities in compliance with USDA regulations, which plaintiffs argue the Seaquarium is not. While the Seaquarium s in Miami, PETA filed the suit in North Carolina – citing that the headquarters of the Animal Welfare Operations for the Eastern Region of the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is based in Raleigh.
Jan 1, 2016 — The pending lawsuit against the Miami Seaquarium for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is set to be heard by a federal judge in Miami in May 2016. Lolita officially became protected under the ESA in May 2015.
July 20, 2015 — A coalition including ALDF, PETA, Orca Network, and Orca Network director Howard Garrett hit the Miami Seaquarium with a lawsuit contending that the facility’s imprisonment of suffering orca Lolita constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
On March 24 2015, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal in Atlanta considered the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s lawsuit regarding the captivity of Lolita. Unfortunately, federal judges with the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta ruled that they will not allow a lower court to rehear the case and the case was closed. According to Judge Susan Black, who wrote the court’s opinion, it is ultimately up to Congress to change the government agency’s renewal requirements.
On Feb 4, 2015, NOAA Fisheries issued a final rule that includes Lolita, a captive killer whale at the Miami Seaquarium, in the endangered species listing for the Southern Resident killer whales. Now that Lolita is protected under this ruling, legal proceedings can commence to have her retired to her home waters of Washington State in a coastal sea pen sanctuary.
In July 2014, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited and fined the Miami Seaquarium for putting trainers in the water with Lolita, thereby violating worker safety laws. OSHA fined the Seaquarium $7,000. As a result, trainers are no longer performing in the water with Lolita.
In the summer of 2012 the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Orca Network filed a federal lawsuit against the USDA for not enforcing the Animal Welfare Act with regard to Lolita, and renewing the Seaquarium’s license. In March of 2014, the case was dismissed. According to the ALDF, the agency’s current renewal process makes the AWA meaningless. They have now taken the lawsuit to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal.
On July 2, 2014, the Seaquarium was bought by Palace Entertainment, owned by Parques Reunidos, which owns over 70 theme parks including Marineland, Antibes in France. The Orca Network has contacted Palace Entertainment on Lolita’s behalf. They are asking the public to please contact them as well, to voice your opinion on Lolita’s future. Please see the contact information above, under the 'Take Action" section of this website.
In the summer of 2013, World-renowned orca biologist Dr Ingrid N. Visser from the Orca Research Trust visited Lolita in Miami. This 8-min short “A Day in the Life of Lolita, the Performing Orca”, directed by filmmaker Daniel Azarian, documents Dr. Visser’s visit.
Learn more about
Powerful aerial drone footage of Lolita at the Seaquarium. This short yet powerful video clip cleary shows how small her tank truly is, compared to her size. This footage was shot in January 2015.
Comprehensive hour-long documentary of Lolita's story by filmmaker Timothy Gorski from Rattle the Cage Productions. This film documents the Penn Cove Captures, Lolita's arrival at the Seaquarium and the initial public outry to have her retired, that continues to this day.