KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals held a protest Tuesday morning outside the Miami Seaquarium to demand the release of Lolita.
The Miami Seaquarium's last orca was captured 47 years ago in Puget Sound during a "violent whale hunt," PETA officials said in a news release.
"It's animals in captivity. It's wrong," one protester, Michael Leaming, said. "No animals should be kept against their will. Basically, this is slavery, and Lolita has been here for 47 years today. She was taken from her family, taken from her home, and that's not right. If any human child were taken from their home, people would be outraged."
PETA officials said Lolita's last tankmate, Hugo, died 37 years ago from injuries sustained when he rammed his head into the tank’s concrete wall in an apparent suicide.
"At just four times her length at its longest point, with a maximum depth of a paltry 20 feet, Lolita's tank is the size of a teardrop to her," PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman said. "PETA is calling on the Miami Seaquarium to dredge up a kernel of compassion and retire this ravaged orca to a coastal sanctuary, where she would at last be able to swim freely, dive deep and communicate with her family members."
PETA executives said Lolita is in one of the smallest orca tanks in North America, has no protection from the sun and must perform for visitors up to three times a day.
They said she has been in the same tank since 1970 and hasn't had contact with another orca since 1980.
"She's been in captivity a really long time, and the courts just find it OK to keep her in this suppressed state," one protester, Heather Bass, said. "So I want to come out, make a change and make my voice heard. I think that a lot of other people appreciate what we're doing here."
PETA officials said an orca who is believed to be Lolita's mother is still alive and thriving in her 80s. They said they hope for Lolita to be released to a seaside sanctuary in her home waters so she can interact with her mother and family pod.
Miami Seaquarium general manager Andrew Hertz defended the Seaquarium's decision to keep Lolita in captivity, calling the orca an "ambassador for her species," and saying that releasing her could jeopardize her health.
Below is Hertz's full statement:
"Lolita the killer whale is healthy and thriving in her home of 46 years where she shares her habitat with Pacific white-sided dolphins. There is no scientific evidence that the 50 year-old post-reproductive Lolita could survive if she were to be moved from her home at Miami Seaquarium to a sea pen or to the open waters of the Pacific Northwest. It would be reckless and cruel to treat her life as an experiment and jeopardize her health and safety in order to appease a fringe group.
"Lolita plays an important role in the mission of Miami Seaquarium to educate the public about the need to conserve the marine environment and its residents. We know firsthand the educational and inspirational experiences children and adults have when they see Lolita, our dolphins and the other marine mammals at our facility. More than 65,000 school children visit Miami Seaquarium each year to learn about Lolita and the other residents of the sea.
"Lolita will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium."