Native American tribe in Miami pushing for release of Seaquarium orca

Seaquarium says moving 52-year-old animal too risky

By Louis Aguirre - Anchor/Reporter

MIAMI - A delegation of the Lummi Nation is now in Miami, fighting for Lolita's release from the Miami Seaquarium. The tribe wants to return her to her native waters in the Salish Sea.

"We come in peace. We are not protesters. We are protectors of this great earth," Lummi Tribal Council member Freddy Lane said.

In August 1970, a baby orca -- then known as Tokitea -- was taken from her family and sold to the Seaquarium.  For 47 years, she has lived in the smallest whale tank in the country, performing two shows a day, seven days a week, and is known to all as Lolita. 

"Many other who protect the Salish Sea are calling for her to come home. We are the voice for the voiceless," said Lummi Tribal Council Chairman Jay Julius.

The Lummis are now calling on the Seaquarium to bring Lolita home.

"If the Seaquarium joined forces with us they can be a part of it and they can be so instrumental in making this happen and doing the right thing," Julius said.

But the Seaquarium has been unwilling to even come to the table.  

Florida gubernatorial candidate Phillip Levine who, while he was mayor of Miami Beach lobbied for Lolita's retirement, knows that all too well. 

"The Seaquarium does not want to hear about it. They are more interested in profits than releasing this beautiful orca," Levine said.

The Seaquarium has argued that moving Lolita would be too risky.  She's now 52 years old and the second-oldest orca living in captivity.

But those pushing for her release claim that their argument has no merit.

"At what point is this entire plan -- transition, transport, immersion into her native waters -- where is the point that there is great danger?" said Howard Garrett, of the Orca Network. "If we took an objective look and saw that it was going to be dangerous to her, we wouldn't touch it. We wouldn't push for her to come back."

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