MIAMI – Construction workers are putting the finishing touches on a multimillion-dollar renovation at Miami Seaquarium that includes a new retro modern entrance. It also includes a new gift shop, interactive touch pools that have yet to be stocked and a brand new exhibit that definitely has legs.
But other than a new Jumbotron, there are no changes to Lolita the killer whale's tank.
The marine theme park said Lolita's show has been curtailed over the years because of her advancing age. The southern killer whale is one of the longest living orcas in captivity and many groups, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have protested the park.
The Lummi Indian Tribe has also asked for her release, saying her continued captivity is cruel and that her tank is the smallest orca tank in North America.
"She has lived here for 47 years," Miami Seaquarium curator Emirtus Robert Rose said.
The mammals are critically endangered and only 70 are alive in the world. The Miami Seaquarium's stance on Lolita's release has not wavered, as they say disease is a danger to both her and wild whales.
"She could possibly be carrying pathogens that she has (while) becoming accustomed to living here," Rose said. "If exposed to the wild population, it could wipe out those 70 animals in a matter of weeks or days."
In March, Local 10's Louis Aguirre traveled to Puget Sound, where the whale, then known as Tokitae, was captured over four decades ago.
The Lummi Tribe wants her released into a sea pen off Orca Island. So far, Seaquarium officials have declined to meet with tribal members and the pushback is getting more personal.
"They don't care if she lives or dies," Rose said. "She is nothing more than a vehicle by which they promote their name, their political agenda, to obtain money and to gain media attention."