“We are on borrowed time. It’s a wonder she has survived this long,” says Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network. “But Lolita has a lot of spunk and character.” He believes she is waiting patiently to come home to her family in Puget Sound. “Orcas have long memories,” he says.
From 1964 to 1973 southern resident whales lost one-third to one-half their population. Dozens of orcas were brutally captured and sold to marine parks around the world. Lolita, also known as Tokitae, is the only one still alive. She has survived for 49 years, 39 of those in isolation, at the Miami Seaquarium.
Lolita is the main attraction, performing the same set of tricks for 20 minutes, twice a day, seven days a week. She is held in a crumbling cement tank that barely contains her. Lolita’s captors say she is healthy, but medical records show she has received anti-depressants. Some who have seen her say she is listless when not performing.
For 25 years, Garrett and others have campaigned to bring Lolita home to her natal waters. Ken Balcomb, marine biologist and founder of The Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, says the Lummi Tribe have a legal right to demand Lolita’s release under the 1855 Point Elliot Treaty. The tribe plans events in Florida to keep the fight alive.
“The Lummi have a fierce determination, a lot of resources, and a great legal team,” says Garrett. He points out the Seaquarium is not doing well, attendance and revenue is down, which he believes is a result of increased public awareness of the plight of captive orcas and dolphins. There are protests almost every day during the winter tourist season.
Sandra Pollard, author of “Orcas In Captivity” (2014) has written a moving history of the life of Lolita entitled “A Puget Sound Orca In Captivity: The Fight To Bring Lolita Home,” just released in January. She dismisses the Seaquarium’s claim that Lolita will not survive transport home and, even if she does, Puget Sound waters can no longer support healthy orcas. Balcomb, she explains, has a detailed plan to safely and slowly acclimate Lolita back into the L pod by way of an unconfined natural sea water pen.
I think Lummi Councilman Fred Lane has the best rebuttal to the Seaquarium’s objections: “You know what? It’s better to die at home with your family than die in captivity.”
Pollard will be at the Greater Hansville Community Center on March 19 at 7 p.m. for a Tuesday Talk. You’ll learn about the tragic life of Lolita so far and how you can help get her released.
Annette Wright was an editor and writer for women’s magazines in NYC for 25 years. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.