In the wild she’d sometimes swim a hundred miles in a day at thirty miles an hour. She could dive down as far as 500 feet. But she always stayed close to her family. Deeply bonded, her pod remained together over the years and included generations from calves to grandparents.
Those days are gone for her. Instead she performs for crowds twice daily and bobs, inactive, in her small concrete pool between shows. She hasn’t seen another orca since her tank mate Hugo died decades ago.
“She” is Lolita, an orca born in 1964 and captured in 1970. As of today she has spent 45 years in her concrete pool at Miami Seaquarium in Florida.
A campaign is under way to move her to a sea pen near her surviving family in the waters off the state of Washington. She would receive human care for life as needed, be guided on boat-led “sea walks,” and be provided with other exercises so that she might even be able to rejoin her pod someday. If not, she could see and communicate with them from her pen. Her natural skills and stamina have atrophied, but she is still clearly excited when she hears recordings of her family’s vocalizations, and she still vocalizes in their dialect.
The move from her “home” at Seaquarium to her waiting retirement sea pen would likely be extremely traumatic. The change for Lolita is a risk, no doubt, but it is one worth taking. Most experts strongly believe captive orcas are stressed and lonely in their bare, cramped tanks even if they do become attached to their human keepers. Humane retirement is the right thing to do for Lolita, and eventually for all captive orcas—these beautiful beings who once shared the ocean and should never have been taken from it.
*For more information, visit orcanetwork.org.