Supporter “Talks Back” for Freedom of Captive Orca Lolita at Miami Seaquarium on 40th Anniversary
For 40 years, the Southern resident orca named Lolita (or Tokitae, Toki for short), has been held in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium… performing for tourists in what is an illegally sized pool, far too small by current Animal Welfare Act regulations. Many have spent years fighting for her freedom. 40 years to the day of Tokitae’s brutal capture in which she was torn from her family, one individual’s simple innocent written statement declaring “Free Lolita” nearly led to her own confinement by the Miami Police Department. This is her story:
First of all, this is the second time I have traveled to Miami to see Toki. As some of you will recall, in May of 2010, I had written my accounts of that visit. Ironically, something quite similar to the first visit as this last visit transpired. By this I mean, we were asked to leave no explanations’ given without my drilling them for answers, that is. Second, MSQ has been holding Lolita in the same tank that she arrived in 40 years ago with very little changes made to the overall structure in all those years. Her tank is clearly illegal (too small) according to the rules of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and not being enforced by the agency in charge of doing so – the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). That is clear, however, on the days we went in to see her, this wasn’t the only thing I found/find incredibly disturbing in what MSQ is doing. (Here I will post a link which visibly shows how illegal her tank is, and hope people keep spreading the word in order to liberate this dear soul.)
I also would like to add that, we did not and do not pay Miami Seaquarium to get in. We have season passes that were donated to us for the purpose of checking in on her periodically. Each time is an experience in and of itself. So, to be clear – we aren’t contributing to the MSQ bottom-line.
The day before our “Walk for Lolita”, on Saturday August 7th, along with a few friends meeting up from various places around America for the demonstration outside of Miami Seaquarium, we went in to see both shows. One at 1pm, and the other at 5pm. Before seeing the first show, I must admit, Lolita looked and seemed much more energetic and playful than she did when I saw her in May of this year. She came up to see us quite often and even swam upside down in circles around the lower half of the pool. The gates to the medical tank where they house the Pacific white-sided dolphins (lags) were open this time, unlike in May where they were closed off. However, before the show starts while she’s begging for food, they lock her off to the front of the pool.
In the first show at 1 pm she did a few tricks; splashes, several fin slaps, sirens, breaches, and lifting of the trainer out of the water a couple of times. At one point we all noticed that when the trainer went under Lolita to be lifted high out of the water, the trainer wound up coming within about 4 feet of hitting the wall. You could clearly see the look of fear on the trainer’s face and her leaning back to avoid hitting. All in all, Lolita seemed good yet, they still don’t have the main focus on her. The lags are still 75% of the 20 minute show. The announcers did make many more comments about “Lolita” due to the fact that they were/are promoting the 40th anniversary of her being at Miami Seaquarium. I must admit that I found it quite annoying that they have been promoting this “Celebration” for about a week prior to kicking it off on Friday the 6th of August because, if they look back in their history books, as I mentioned earlier – she didn’t arrive until late September, so factually they are wrong.
In any case, the second show at 5pm was completely different. We sat on the opposite side of the stadium this time but it was clear Lolita didn’t want to “play” or cooperate. She wouldn’t do more than one of the several fin slaps they signaled for her to do, she wouldn’t do the “calls/sirens” they asked her to do, and the show just stopped a few times where even the dolphins were not doing anything whatsoever. There were periods in this show where nothing was happening at all and the trainers were looking at each other as though they didn’t know what was going on. After seeing the show 4 hours earlier where everything seemed to go off well, this show was the complete opposite. At the end of the show, unlike the first one, it was quite noticeable that Lolita would not go over by her trainer.
We were able to stay after both shows for about 5 to 7 minutes and it was almost sad to see because after Lolita’s trainer gave her the last fish, she was begging for, and poured the bloody juice from the cooler into Lolita’s mouth, she swam off to look at the other humans around the pool, including us. The trainer was trying to get Lolita’s attention, but she wouldn’t listen. She called her, slapped the water, and even got in the pool on the edge where the trainers hang out trying to call her – and still Lolita wouldn’t listen. To me it was as though she was being sassy and saying, “No, I don’t want to listen to you. I’m tired of this routine so leave me alone.” I’ve seen Lolita on 5 separate occasions and never saw her behave this way. Clearly this trainer (I believe her name is Jennifer) loves Lolita yet, I almost felt sorry for her that the orca she loves won’t listen to her and showed no interest in interacting at this point. Considering we could all see this it had to be a little humiliating for the trainer.
Ok now, fast forward to the next day, August 8th, the day of the walk. We were meeting a large group of people and several of us had arrangements to get some body paint with various artwork such as a portrait of Lolita, and/or little phrases such as; Save Lolita, Retire Lolita, Free Lolita, Born to be Wild, etc., etc. I opted for, Free Lolita on my back and, Born to be Wild, on my forearms. We had quite torrential rains just as we arrived to MSQ but even so, we hung out there with our signs for a good 30 minutes before throwing in the towel. After we were finished a friend of mine and I decided we’d go back to the hotel, dry off and go see her for the last time at the 5 pm show. We cleaned up my body paint (which, mind you, had got very smudged in the rain) and I thought well, “I’ll go like this to MSQ, why not?” I had no idea what trouble it would cause.
Since it was drizzling again when we entered, I wore a towel and umbrella and walked in the stadium and saw Lolita in her corner and stopped to say hi to the security guard I had talked with the day before. He was a very nice guy, has been there 2 and a half years and just plain friendly. In fact, I talked with him and another security guard the day before and had asked them kindly, out of curiosity, if they knew there were people who wanted to see Lolita retired? They smiled and said, “Yes…we know.”, and were very nice about it. They even said they knew her real name was Tokitae, and agreed that the tank was probably a little small for her. As a matter of fact, you could hear other patrons saying, “Wow, she’s beautiful but boy…that tank sure is small.” I even had a small boy come up and say it as though he was thinking out loud, but standing right next to me doing so. I agreed with him and watching him walk away as though he was sad. To be honest, I had a little chat with him about her after he mentioned how little her pool was – and he was very sad to hear she’s been in this same barren tank for 40 years.
After saying hi to the security guard who remembered me from the day before, I went over to say hi to Toki in her little corner where the trainers enter or spend time after the show. At this point they are down the stairs waiting for the show to start before they all come running in like a circus act. She spent several minutes with us – at least 4 or 5. At that point most of the patrons were taking their seats because of the drizzle and mostly congregated by the entrance area of the stands. There were very few people directly behind me. It was only 10 minutes to 5 pm yet, they were making announcements for people to take their seats. They made 3 such announcements which I found odd because they don’t start until 5. As the stands were starting to fill up (about 1/3rd capacity) and while talking with Toki and my friend Jeff – and minding our own business – I was approached by a female manager of MSQ (who I recognized immediately as we have seen each other on several occasions – like when in May the trainer, Robert Rose, had me and two other people thrown out for absolutely no reason whatsoever besides the fact we were with a recognizable female who is one of the leaders of the Save Lolita group and monthly protests the last Saturday of every month. That story is above in the link to the Thomas Paine’s Corner article.)
The manager and a security guard came up and told me, “I’m sorry Ma’am, I am going to have to ask you to leave.” To be quite honest, I did not even think twice that having “Free Lolita” or a 6″ (which I must add, I swear Toki peered at) portrait of her with “Born to be Wild” would be grounds to get expelled from the property. Maybe that was quite naive but, I do have to mention that the day before at the second show I had my “Save Lolita/Boycott Miami Seaquarium” tank top on and talked with the security guards and they never did anything. As a side note, I did see this woman who approached me on Sunday as the same woman standing at the exit seeing me leave with that shirt on.
As soon as she asked me to leave I thought and said, “Why? I haven’t done anything wrong.” She said, “I’m asking you to leave, you are on private property and we reserve the right to ask you to go.” I replied, “For having Free Lolita on my shoulders?” She said, “Ma’am I am asking you to leave and will refund your money, but it’s time to go.” To be honest, I knew then that it was better if I had a cordial question/answer session on behalf of Lolita than just go quietly, no questions asked. After all, at the same time this is going on, there are people all over the country and those who have been behind her cause for decades meeting at the point of capture in Penn Cove, doing ceremonies. Howard Garrett of Orca Network , Ric O’Barry of the Cove, and various politicians who in the mid 70’s changed laws about capturing wild orcas, after witnessing these brutal acts, were all out there paying homage to this beautiful soul I was standing next to and that we are all fighting for. Many other well-known people behind the movement to get her retired were out there holding visuals for her, so surely, I wasn’t going to just walk out for having a loving statement on my body. In fact, I pointed out to the manager several times that, “I don’t have anything derogatory or defamatory about Miami Seaquarium anywhere on my body. I haven’t said anything, I’m not talking to strangers about what a God awful place this was….nothing.”
That said, one thing she did say to me about 3/4ths of the way through the discussion was, “What if a child was to see that?”, as though it were profanity. I found her statement/words quite strange and pondered them after we left. Why was “Free Lolita” too much for a child to read? Is it perhaps because a child may question, “Mommy, why does that woman want Lolita free?” and perhaps start asking questions like they did with Keiko, the beloved orca in the movies, Free Willy? Children were a huge part of the movement behind his cause.
In any case, as the manager kept pointing out that, “It is our Policy and we reserve the right to ask anyone we want to leave”, and I kept asking (no less than 10 times) to please let me see this policy and where it says, in writing, that a simple statement is grounds to be kicked out. It was then I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of the security guards surrounding us had left. Well, little did I know it was because he went to get a Police officer to escort me out or arrest me if I didn’t go. I said hi to the officer and calmly asked him, “But why? I didn’t “do” anything threatening; I wasn’t holding a banner or large sign, and as I pointed out, I did not speak to anyone around me – I did not try throwing anything in the pool – I did not try to endanger a marine mammal – I didn’t jump in the pool or try to hurt Lolita—why should I have to go?” Well, apparently they have the right to ask you to leave because they are on private property. You can go to the party they invited you to attend but, you have to give up your freedom of speech rights.
Right or wrong, I went right to the line and stayed just short of getting “arrested” for having the words, “Free Lolita” on my body in 2.5 inch letters. I felt horrible after outside of the park as though I was some fool for going in there expecting not to get tossed out. To be honest, as soon as I walked out of the gate, I cried like a 6-year-old girl who just lost her puppy. Not only did I feel bad for my friend who had to leave with me – I felt just awful that I didn’t get the chance to turn around and say, good bye, to her. Maybe that was prophetic and it was the last time I see her in that tiny pool at MSQ? I would like nothing more than to never see her again there, and the next time it is when she is being lowered into a sea pen off Puget Sound. So perhaps not saying good bye to Lolita that last time was fitting…
All in all, the fact that Miami Seaquarium does not want any sort of advertisement to the causes behind her retirement plan became extremely clear. They feel the need to hold on tight to her as their solo “cash cow” when she is clearly healthy, strong and even though she is able to be rehabilitated, retired and potentially reunited with her family in the Salish Sea off Washington. When you stop and think about the fact that; Arthur Hertz, the owner of MSQ and, Andrew Hertz, his son and General Manager, could make moves to negotiate her retirement with all these great organizations behind her – get her into a coastal sea pen after 4 decades of hard work (mostly in solitude) – and come out looking like heroes, it makes one take pause and wonder – why not? Why not make Miami Seaquarium into a rehabilitation center/aquarium and use the other parts as a Water Park where they could surely make more money on a daily basis over the course of the year, than do an orca show twice a day for a total of 10 minutes of her 24 hour day?
Also, in addition to his duties at the park, Andrew [Hertz] serves Florida’s tourism community as the incoming chair of the Florida Attractions Association, is on the board of Visit Florida serving as its Treasurer, and has been appointed to the Florida Commission on Tourism by Governor Charlie Christ. http://www.floridaattractions.org/thirdthursdayatthree/01212010/ Too many “friends” in the right places? Look, and judge for yourselves.
There are so many more questions beyond that like; why do the Hertz men not have compassion for this beautiful soul and do the right thing by her and make her a bigger pool just because they care about her? http://www.prlog.org/10814959-miami-seaquarium-plagued-with-problems-as-bp-oil-contamination-looms-orca-whale-lolita-at-risk.html ( <— details of violations). Why doesn’t APHIS enforce the law in place by the AWA and fine them for her tank being illegal? Why aren’t they shutting them down after years of it being illegal? Why don’t they force them to expand the pool? And why on earth wouldn’t the Hertz family do so because, as noted, they care about her well-being and also just for the sheer fact that she is swimming in a pool the equivalent of a 6″ inch Goldfish bowl for a fish that is 3″ inches long? She is an orca – not a mere fish. She’s an intelligent, sentient being and is acutely aware, just as humans and orcas by nature are, of what is going on around her 24 hours a day.
More questions; why isn’t someone filing a Class Action Lawsuit against, APHIS, for not enforcing the law that they are supposed to? Why isn’t the City of Miami-Dade county, suing the MSQ or making them bring her tank up to code after all these years, since the land is owned by the City, not the Hertz family? I can assure you that if I owned a business on land owned by Miami-Dade and was non-compliant with the law – I’d be fined and evicted if I didn’t comply. And lastly – why doesn’t the Miami Herald call them out on their criminal – law breaking ways? Is it because Hertz pays too much money in advertising and it’s a conflict of interest?
What will it take to make things happen for this beautiful soul who deserves much better than what she has been given?
It’s time to retire this enslaved orca and get her back where she belongs. Please keep spreading the word and never give up hope that one day, she will be found with some compassion in the hearts of those that are Hertz, and swimming in a natural setting in her home waters. Her family is there, and they are waiting for her to come home.
By: Colleen Gorman
“I believe in the power of you and I” ~ A great video dedicated to those who fight for the rights of these beautiful, intelligent beings.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IGRBVo5BSA
More great links and videos to ponder over:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDJJIiWlGQE&feature=related Lolita: A Slave to Entertainment
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzUgLbHzKIE&feature=related Lolita – Her Life