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Government Report: Killer Whale Lolita’s Welfare at Risk

April 25, 2012

Lolita at Miami Seaquarium ~ August, 2010

A leaky pool, sanitation issues, and a deteriorating roof at Miami Seaquarium’s killer whale stadium are threatening the welfare of orca Lolita and the dolphins housed in the oldest, smallest, and most decrepit marine park pools in the United States.

A recent inspection conducted by the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) found several issues with the structure which poses a risk to the marine mammals housed in this facility which are supposed to be protected by the regulations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The structural deficiencies may also pose significant risk of injury to employees and the hundreds of daily visitors to the Key Biscayne entertainment facility.

The March 20, 2012 inspection by USDA-APHIS Animal Care Veterinary Medical Officer Mary E. Moore, DVM found the following non-compliance issues:

  • 1.  A viewing window in the whale stadium which is part of the primary enclosure and the third window from the east, was noted to be dripping a constant stream. The window seal and structural integrity of this area as related to a primary enclosure housing a whale and dolphin should be evaluated and appropriate repairs made.
  • 2.  The tile baseboard in the whale fish kitchen is separating from the wall on both sides of the outside door. On the left side facing the door, a large gap is present between the wall and the baseboard. Buildings must be kept in good repair to facilitate appropriate cleaning and sanitation of food areas and ensure the health and well being of the animals.
  • 3.  The metal roof over the public stands in the whale stadium has rusted and corroded areas in the middle third of the roof. Part of the overhang was noted to have flaking rust. Several holes were noted in the metal roof panels as a result of deterioration. Directly in front of the access panel a large area of corrosion was seen adjacent to a support beam. Pieces of the compromised roof could fall into the primary enclosure especially during high winds and adversely affect the welfare of the animals.

This, and previous USDA-APHIS inspection reports for Miami Seaquarium can be seen below or by clicking HERE.

View this document on Scribd

This is not the first time Miami Seaquarium has been cited for their deteriorating structures. In 2003, Miami Seaquarium was shut down by the Miami-Dade building department after numerous structural and safety issues were revealed:

”You can see they were patching here and patching there, and patching on patches, and they have been doing this for some time. That doesn’t work when you have a corrosive environment. Now they have gotten a wake-up call. They’re going to have to fix it up fast if they want to keep it open.” ~ Miami-Dade county building chief Charles Danger told the Miami Herald in September, 2003

The deteriorating Miami Seaquarium is placing Lolita’s welfare at risk

Since the USDA-APHIS is only responsible in ensuring the welfare and safety of animals under its charge, a copy of the APHIS inspection report was forwarded to the Miami-Dade Building Department to make them aware of these potential risks to public safety. The report was sent by The Orca Project to several departments and department heads at the Miami-Dade Permitting and Inspection Center (MDPIC) on Friday, April 20, 2012. They have not responded or commented as of this date.

These latest violations still only scratch the surface of the numerous AWA deficiencies for which APHIS has been negligent in enforcing… turning a blind eye on the welfare of Lolita, a killer whale (Orcinus orca) who has spent more than 40 years cramped in the tiny deteriorating pool. Click HERE to read more about these deficiencies, HERE to learn more about Lolita, and click HERE to learn more about what you can do.

What else you can do:

  • Tell your friends and families not to visit or support Marine Mammal Parks like Miami Seaquarium, SeaWorld and Six Flags.
  • Visit the Orca Network to learn more about Lolita and a comprehensive plan to retire her to a sea pen or visit SaveLolita.com for news, events and protests.
  • Call your Congressman and elected officials and tell them not to support Marine Mammal captivity. To locate your government officials, click <HERE>.
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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Helga permalink
    February 10, 2014 1:40 am

    What is the fault of the killer whale in front of people, that its locked in prison not for decades, so that did not kill human freaks who fished?

  2. Marine Life Preservationist, Bob permalink
    November 10, 2013 7:30 pm

    I first became aware of Lolita 24 years ago as a member of the now defunct Marine Life Preservation Society. We met regularly at both MSQ and the UM School next door. And I visit her at least 4 times a year. She is very well cared for – which explains why she is the oldest orca ever in captivity. I believe she has been there for over 40 years, not 35. She is NOT aggressive to her fellow orcas/Pacific dolphins. They have become a kind of odd-couple pod. She has close bonds with several of her caretakers as well. When the crowds go away and she shares time with her trainers, she coos, communicates and bonds with them in a way that is almost unimaginable.

    Her habitat IS too small. Many of us worked alongside MSQ for years to convince the VIllage of Key Biscayne to allow the construction of a larger environment. It was defeated regularly by the Village Council. And the Village should be ashamed.

    Seaquarium is probably the oldest oceanarium in the US. It isn’t perfect, but it has provided education, exposure and animal rescue resources, and engaged volunteers like me to help. If there is a “lack of concern” or “poor track record” with marine mammals, they sure have a funny way of showing it. They have been involved in the rescue of many more dolphins, whales, sea turtles, water foul and manatees than they will ever display or even talk about or take credit for.

    At home, my own bathtub enclosure drips and I have a few loose tiles in my kitchen too. But it doesn’t stop me from donating animal causes. So I respect their priorities. And I don’t have to deal with known abusers depleting my resources and telling lies about me.

    Do people not know that “Saint” Russ Rector was in charge of TWO facilities the government was forced to shut down for animal abuse? Or that he started pointing his finger at a decent marine facility because they wouldn’t hire him?! What Rector has succeed in doing is redirecting blame away from himself and forcing an honorable facility to divert part of its funds for rescue and education to defend itself from a known abuser. He’s finally found a way to get back at people and animals – and to fool most of us into believing he is the good guy.

    • Red permalink
      November 10, 2013 10:02 pm

      First of all, I do not know who Russ Rector is, so I’m not sure what that person’s relevance is to this post.

      Second, the dolphins that were rescued by the Seaquarium are one thing, but dolphins that the Seaquarium goes out of its way to maintain in captivity are another.

      Third, Lolita’s enclosure could be made larger without the approval of Key Biscayne–all you have to do is knock down the platform in the middle of her tank and stop gating it off.

      Fourth, I am sure that Lolita does interact well with her trainers, but that does not necessarily mean that she is entirely happy.

      And finally, I would like to point out that although your bathtub leaks, you do not have to live in it all year round. Lolita does.

  3. Red permalink
    October 28, 2013 3:02 am

    I know I’m a bit late to this post, but seeing “Blackfish” on CNN tonight renewed my interest in Lolita. My question is, does anyone know whether Lolita has ever become aggressive towards the dolphins who live with her? I know that the Seaquarium has a terrible track record with dolphin care, I think I read that Lolita and her former tankmate Hugo became aggressive towards a trainer once, I know that wild orcas will eat young dolphins if they can, and I have read that the dolphins, knowing this, are frequently aggressive towards Lolita. If she has made it through 35 years without killing a single dolphin, it would be remarkable.

    • Marine Life Preservationist, Bob permalink
      November 10, 2013 7:59 pm

      Hey Red-

      From what I have heard, Hugo was an angry SeaWorld cast off. I have spoken with many of Lolita’s trainers over the last 2 decades. Seems she has shown signs of strong aggression only once that I am aware of. Apparently, Hugo had it in for one of Lolita’s favorite trainers and she made her feelings known.

      Hugo went after the trainer. Lolita butted Hugo. Hugo never bothered the trainer or Lolita after that. 30 years later, she still has a special bond with that trainer.

      I’ve followed her pretty closely for 24 years. She looks at her smaller orca poolmates as a kind of pod. They communicate and interact in a friendly manner and not as a banquet guest and hors d’oevres. After your post, I read the causes of death for all of the MSQ orcas and don’t see anything that could have been caused by Lolita. It is remarkable. But she is a very remarkable creature! Interesting observation!

      • Red permalink
        November 10, 2013 9:57 pm

        Bob, I was not asking about the deaths of the other orcas. I was asking about the bottlenose dolphins. Moreover, I was not assuming that Lolita actively preyed upon the dolphins–I was wondering whether they engaged in defensive behavior against her because they see her as a potential threat by mere virtue of the fact that she is an orca.

  4. June 1, 2013 9:20 pm

    I am curious to find out what blog platform you are utilizing?
    I’m experiencing some small security issues with my latest blog and I would like to find something more secure. Do you have any suggestions?

  5. Erica permalink
    May 15, 2012 6:17 pm

    This is just too sad…I have thought about this orca everyday since I have found out about her and I still can’t get her out of my mind…I pray for her everyday. I hope we can get her out of that tank and back to where she belongs. These animals represent true peace and happiness why anyone would do such cruel acts to them is beyond me. Maybe with Tom and Misha recently being release will be sucessfull and we can lead by example. These animals are 2nd to humans their minds in my mind are smarter than we would ever want to be and that should be respected! She has not forgotten her home she can be free we just have to give the chance…Miami I know about the insurance policy you have on her, take the money you were offered and let her go, you already made that much and more.

  6. Lucy Mac permalink
    May 12, 2012 5:48 am

    Really admire the ongoing efforts here to increase awareness, but I couldn’t find anyone else’s petition open or ongoing at Change dot org to get a decent number of signatories, so, deep breath, I started my own. Could it take off? Who knows. If you’re interested, visit: https://www.change.org/petitions/initiate-the-return-of-captive-orcas-dolphins-and-sharks-to-open-sea-pens and please sign.

  7. NotTooHappyAboutThis permalink
    April 28, 2012 2:32 pm

    When you describe her as “Healthy”, are you decribing her physical or Mental health?

    • Red permalink
      October 28, 2013 2:56 am

      Even physically, I doubt that being moved from the chilly, temperate waters of Washington state to the blistering Florida heat could have been good for Lolita. It can’t be healthy to live so long without adequate space for exercise. Furthermore, if, as rs states, all those problems are easily fixed, why haven’t they been fixed already?

  8. April 26, 2012 2:53 pm

    Although I do agree that her tank is way too small for her and she needs a bigger one, this USDA report is just a regular annual report containing problems that can fairly easily be taken care of. Second, I feel it is important to point out that Keiko was never out of the care of humans. When they tried to release him, he kept coming back to people. I would also like to point out that Tokitae is healthy. Yes her tank is too small and she should be moved to a bigger one, but she is healthy

    • Hayley-Lolita O'Connor permalink
      May 1, 2012 7:09 pm

      keiko may of depended on humans but I’m sure if he could be asked when he was happier.. in mexico.. or in the ocean. Im sure his answer would of been the ocean. If he was never caught in the first place he would never of been in that position either way. Im sure he preffered the space.. seawater, waves and nature than a pool !

    • Jen permalink
      May 2, 2012 7:50 am

      RS@ If you think Keiko “kept coming back to people” then you obviously don’t know the whole story. I suggest you read the book Freeing Keiko by Kennith Brower for the full details.

    • Percy permalink
      June 4, 2012 12:27 pm

      The Lolita Retirement Plan fully accounts for the potential outcome of her remaining reliant on humans for both food and companionship, so it is a non-issue. She would be healthier in a sea pen where she would be exposed to the richness of her natural habitat–sounds, sights, room to move, etc. Modern zoos attempt to do the best they can at replicating an animal’s natural habitat and using enrichment programs to maintain their mental health. This simply can’t be successfully accomplished with cetaceans of any size. One of their most important ways of perceiving the world is sound and this is completely altered in captivity. The fact that she is a social animal and has lived with no other member of her species for so long is an egregious handicap imposed upon her that can’t be good for her health. Stress is harmful to the health of both humans and animals. She deserves better. She is a member of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population of reproductive age and there is a good possibility she could reintegrate with a family group and contribute to the population’s long-term viability. Less than 100 of these animals survive! It is absolutely criminal that she is being kept captive.

  9. Sherrie permalink
    April 26, 2012 12:54 pm

    The dripping of the water from the tank is kind of like the movie “Free Willy”. I hope that they get shut down and Lolita can be put into one of those rehabilitaion centres and then released back into the wild once she is ready.

  10. Ashley Medina permalink
    April 26, 2012 12:37 am

    All the more reason to retire Lolita, to a sea pen at the very least!!!

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