Lolita – The Loneliest Orca in the World and How I Failed Her

There once was a time I would roll out of bed, shower, get dressed, scarf down some breakfast, go to school, hang out with my friends and generally go about my day in blissful ignorance, fully unaware that my little society was anything but ideal.

It was a time when I actually believed that us modern day folk were more civilized, more humane than those who came before us. Sure there were those who did bad things, but they were usually caught and dealt with according to whatever law they violated.

I believed this for a long time even as cracks in the façade were revealed little by little. You mean the punishment for mutilating an animal is a mere slap on the wrist? You’re telling me the slaughter of animals for food is nothing like how my beloved dog is gently put to sleep?

As the years went on the cracks became huge chasms. I no longer live under the mass delusion that corporations and regulatory bodies do what is in my, or in any animal’s best interest. And yet, even with that realization, even with the huge chasm that has opened and allowed me to see how brutal our society really is, I’m still horrified on a weekly basis by some new act of animal cruelty–things like hog fighting and crush videos.

And today, I’ve realized that it’s more than the gut wrenching cruelty that makes me so upset.

-I’m upset because every time one of these stories breaks, I realize there is so much more out there that is still hidden, kept behind closed doors so the perpetrators can continue without backlash, without recourse.

-I’m upset because in many instances when these acts are brought to light, there is little anyone can or will do about them. Either the laws are inadequate, or the powers that be have no interest in upholding the law, or in making any real change.

-I’m upset because I believe most people want the delusion to continue. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to think about it. They don’t want to become angry about it, or feel like they should do something about it. I know I often feel this way. That’s why we all turn off the ASPCA commercials featuring Sarah McLachlan.

-I’m upset because no matter how much I love animals, and the fact that I would never hurt anything (all the spiders in my house are escorted outside, not squished), I realize that I am still complicit in their suffering, and I don’t think there will ever be a time when this won’t be true.

Even when I want to avoid products, services or industries that harm animals, the task feels insurmountable, it feels like everything is set up in favor of cruelty. From choosing shampoo, to medications and medical treatments, to clothing, to food, and entertainment, how do I monitor and track the companies to avoid, especially when the information is so hard to come by, and often misleading? How do I weed through the varying agendas to find the truth?

How do I help dogs, cats, horses, llamas, and elephants that are victims of negligence and abuse when the system is stacked against me? I donate when I can afford it, I tweet, I might post a Facebook message, but does this really do anything? I feel like there are so many problems, yet so few people who are both willing and able to do anything about it.

I fear the exploitation of animals is so deeply rooted and pervasive in our society that even if I am not an active participant, I will always be a participant nonetheless, as long as I continue to live and consume.

As most of my readers know, I’ve never blogged about such a serious topic. I’m usually blabbering on about potluck paranoia and why I can’t keep my house clean. But a story struck me a few weeks ago that I can’t let go.

It’s the story of Lolita, the orca who was stolen from the Puget Sound in 1970.

Lolita Miami Seaquarium

Miami Seaquarium by LEONARDO DASILVA via Flickr Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0

You can read her story here.

Her pod was targeted and attacked, so that the “collected” whales could be sold to aquariums for entertainment purposes. She was ripped away from her mother, along with seven other orca, and she is the only one of these orca still alive.

Lolita is now 20 feet long and lives in the smallest orca tank in North America, less than 60 x 80 ft. According to the federal Animal Welfare Act, the tank is illegal due to its small size, and it has no shade from the Miami sun; however, she remains there because the Seaquarium and its substandard tank have been grandfathered in.

Orca are highly sociable animals, living with relatives their entire lives, speaking a unique language that Lolita still understands. But Lolita is considered the loneliest orca in the world because her tank mate, Hugo, committed suicide in 1980, and she has lived without the company of another orca since then.

Lolita Miami Seaquarium

Miami Seaquarium by Ross Cobb via Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s been said that the City of Miami doesn’t want to do anything about it because of the revenue the Seaquarium generates for the city, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has yet to do anything to help Lolita (although that could be changing).

For decades activists have been trying to free her so that she can retire somewhere outside her fishbowl. In 2008, the documentary “Lolita, Slave to Entertainment,” was released to help further her cause. Multiple petitions have been created and signed, a rally was just held in Miami, calling for her release, and yet she remains wallowing in her whale puddle, the curator of the Seaquarium stating she will never be allowed to retire.

After reading Lolita’s story I immediately signed the petition on change.org urging her release into a sea pen in her native waters (the full plan is here), just like I sign so many petitions on the website.

But after signing the petition and sharing on social media, I still couldn’t stop thinking about Lolita floating in her little fishbowl. Obviously, more outwardly brutal acts are committed every day, but there is something about that lone orca floating listlessly in a pool that really bothers me. Maybe it’s because she was stolen from her family for the sole purpose of doing tricks in a tiny pool, or maybe it’s because the people who claim to care for her are the ones committing this act of cruelty, or maybe it’s because the act is being committed in broad daylight–heck they’re charging admission for people to witness their cruelty first hand. So not only have they denied her her freedom and the ability to be with her pod, they’re profiting from it, and it’s being advertised in travel books. Maybe it bothers me because of the fact that we’ve let it go on for 40 years, completely oblivious to why this is wrong and taking no action to make it right. Lolita is the very example of American greed, consumerism, perhaps collusion, and how easy it is for a company, or an industry, to delude the public.

Although, what I really think bothers me about Lolita’s terrible tale is how well it illustrates my complicity in the mistreatment of animals, how as someone who claims to love animals, I failed her. How I allowed myself to be ignorant of her story and the stories of the other sea mammals “collected” from the wild. I’ve visited SeaWorld on multiple occasions without a second thought as to how the animals ended up there or what their lives might be like. And over the last few years or so, I’d heard rumblings about the sea parks and mistreatment of animals, but I looked away, not wanting to hear it.

DSC09076

Here I am in my 2011 souvenir photo.

But when I read about Lolita, I finally couldn’t turn away. I read about her capture, the protests, the hopes that one day she’ll be released. And I’ve read the Seaquarium’s statements against her release and I know this will not be an easy battle. I fear that just like with many other animal cruelty issues the law won’t be strong enough, or the organizations in power won’t take a stand. I fear that she’ll remain in that tiny pool, without another orca, until she dies. And while I think the odds are stacked against her, I have to try to do something, a small, but heartfelt effort to help.

So I decided to share her story, in hope of raising awareness, gaining support for her release, and, as I’ve realized while typing this, selfishly to feel like I’ve done something, while also coming to terms with my own shortcomings–an act of personal catharsis, knowing that even with this small action, I’ve likely still failed her.


 

If you want to speak up for Lolita, you can sign the petition here. You can also share her story on social media and boycott the Seaquarium and its sponsors.

For more information on the controversy surrounding the sea-park industry, you can watch the film, Blackfish, the story of Tilikum, a whale that was captured as a baby and has been involved in the death of three people while in captivity. For their side of the story you can read SeaWorld’s response to the film.

After writing this, I discovered there was another arguably even lonelier orca living in Canada. Her is name is Kiska and while Lolita has the company of dolphins (inadequate, but better than nothing), Kiska truly lives alone in a tank. If you want to help Kiska find a better living situation you can sign her petition here.

Advertisements