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APHIS in Action… or inaction?

September 10, 2010
Lolita sitting listlessly in her tiny pool

On August 04, 2010 the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (USDA-APHIS) conducted an inspection of Miami Seaquarium (MSQ) and what they found them in violation of is startling.  In a word – nothing.  With a number of documented Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations, one has to wonder what our government officials are doing about the illegal and detrimental environments of captive orcas (killer whales).  This month marks 40 years that Lolita (also known as Tokitae or Toki) will have been in the same tiny pool.   For the past 30 years, she has been without the company of another orca.

We have now seen 3 orcas die in captivity in the U.S. over the past 3 months and yet, the government agency charged with ensuring their welfare have been negligent in their mission.

From the USDA- APHIS website:

For more than 40 years, Congress has entrusted APHIS with the stewardship of animals covered under the Animal Welfare and Horse Protection Acts.  APHIS continues to uphold that trust, giving protection to millions of animals each year, nationwide.

APHIS provides leadership for determining standards of humane care and treatment of animals. APHIS implements those standards and achieves compliance through inspection, education, cooperative efforts, and enforcement.

The key is “cooperative efforts”… apparently geared toward the needs of marine mammal parks; not the mammals. The Miami Seaquarium has successfully skirted every attempt to have APHIS enforce the AWA, and orca Lolita continues to pay the price with these violations (which can be seen in their entirety by clicking: here):

  • Perimeter Fence & Protection from Abuse and Harassment: Lolita’s pool does not meet AWA requirements to keep animals and unauthorized people out nor does it provide protection from abuse and harassment by the viewing public.
  • Protection from Weather and Direct Sunlight: Lolita is not afforded protection from the weather or from direct sunlight as is required by the AWA.
  • Space Requirements for Orca: The most egregious violation is that of Lolita’s pool size, comparable to that of a bathtub for a marine mammal of her size, which does not meet current AWA regulations.
  • Housing with Compatible Animals: Lolita has not been in the company of another orca since 1980. This highly social animal lives in relative solitude as the AWA is interpreted to accept her dolphin tank-mates as an adequate replacement for a member of her own species.
  • Pool Environment Enhancements: Non-food objects are utilized in Lolita’s pool for stimulation which may subject her to injury through ingestion; another AWA violation.
  • Emergency Contingency Plans: The wellbeing of Lolita and the other marine mammals are at the mercy of the toxic remnants of the Gulf oil spill, sewage contamination in Biscayne Bay and hurricane threats. APHIS has neglected to enforce AWA Emergency Contingency Plan requirements.

But you wouldn’t gather there was anything wrong by reading the single-page “Routine” APHIS inspection report:

OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has recently stepped up to the plate… big time… concerning trainer safety and their interaction with killer whales. It’s time for the USDA and APHIS to do the same for orcas.

What YOU can do:

  • Tell the USDA & APHIS they need to get tough on Marine Mammal Parks that keep Orcas for entertainment. Contact:

Betty Goldentyer, D.V.M.

Eastern Regional Director

USDA – APHIS Animal Care

920 Main Campus Drive-Suite 200

Raleigh, NC 27606

(919) 716-5532- Office

(919) 716-5696 – Fax

  • Visit the Orca Network to learn more about Lolita and a comprehensive plan to retire her to a sea pen or visit 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.
  • Tell your friends and families not to visit or support Marine Mammal Parks like Miami Seaquarium, SeaWorld and Six Flags.
  • Read about a recent visit to Miami Seaquarium here.

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