Lummi nation tribe marches with activists for release of Lolita, captive orca

Seaquarium refuses release, says she could carry potentially dangerous pathogens

By Louis Aguirre - Anchor/Reporter

MIAMI - The sounds of tribal chants filled the air Sunday at Virginia Key, where not even wet, blustery Alberto was able to rain on the parade.

Carrying a recently-carved 16-foot totem that's traveled with them across the country, members of the Lummi Nation, a native tribe from the Pacific Northwest, joined South Florida animal rights activists to march on the Miami Seaquarium as they once again they called for the release of Lolita. The 52-year-old orca who has been living there in the nation's smallest whale tank for 47 years after being taken from her family in Puget.

"Lolita is family. She got taken away. We're trying to get her back," said Tribal council member  Nickolaus Lewis who marched Sunday. "We're going to be here every day that we can until she returns home to her family."

The Lummis consider orcas their spiritual ancestors and have coexisted with them for 10,000 years. Outside her tank at the Seaqurium, they not only sang their ancient songs to her, but also played calls from her family, the L-pod.

When asked if he thinks Lolita heard them Sunday, Totem pole carver Doug James , "Oh, more than you know. You know, her pod can reach miles across the water. She definitely knows we're here."

When Local 10 News visited the Lummi tribe in Washington state two months ago, they took Louis Aguirre to a sea pen on Orcas Island. Many in the tribe said they believe it would be the perfect place to retire Lolita because it's in the same waters her family still travels through. It's also right next door to a salmon hatchery.

The Seaquarium doesn't believe the plan is viable and has refused to meet with members of the Lummi tribe.

"What have they done for Lolita's family? That's what I ask," Tribal council member Freddy Lane said. "They say we don't love Lolita. They say we don't care if she lives or dies. And all he's doing is profiting."

The Seaquarium quotes scientists who argue Lolita is too old to make the journey. They said Lolita may potentially carry dangerous pathogens that could pose a threat to an already-endangered orca population.

Orca Network President Howard Garrett, who recently saw Lolita, strongly disagreed, and said Lolita would be checked out before she's ever moved.

"That's easily dealt with, so to throw that up as a big scare story -- no," Garrett said. That's just to scare people away from even talking about her ever going home."

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