8 August 2020 marked 50 years of captivity for another tortured orca
“When we return wild animals to nature, we merely return them to what is already theirs. For man cannot give wild animals freedom, they can only take it away.”
– Jacques Cousteau
In 1970, at just four years old, Lolita the orca was stolen from her family and forced into a lifetime of imprisonment. Last Saturday, August 8th, marked Lolita’s 50th year in captivity.
One of Lolita’s captors, the Miami Seaquarium, located in Miami, Florida (U.S.), has kept her in a tiny tank for decades. Her former tank mate, Hugo, died on March 4th 1980, after repeated self-inflicted wounds to his head, leaving Lolita as the only remaining survivor of that horrific 1970 capture.
While it is incredible that she has survived, her living conditions are nothing short of misery. Lolita has spent the majority of her life in a small, circular pool that will never compare to her natural habitat.
Orcas in their natural habitat swim to a depth of 1000 feet, while Lolita’s tank’s deepest point is just 20 feet. As a result, Lolita frequently gets sunburns and blisters under the scorching Florida sun, leaving her with permanent scars on her body.
To conceal these scars, aquarium trainers paint Lolita’s body with black zinc oxide, a sunscreen commonly used on orcas in captivity in preparation for showtime. A former SeaWorld employee once mentioned that the orcas’ skin would sometimes peel off from the burns.
Human greed has led to enormous consequences. Our few minutes of entertainment has caused these conscious, sentient, intelligent beings to suffer and die senselessly. Hugo wasn’t the first orca to die as a result of his miserable living conditions, and if we don’t act now, he won’t be the last.
Orcas are intelligent creatures of the ocean, not objects for human entertainment. In her natural habitat, Lolita would be exploring, hunting, socializing, and traveling. However, in captivity, with little to no stimulus at all, Lolita often displays what marine biologists describe as “stereotypic behaviors.” Stereotypic behaviors are repetitive and abnormal behaviors that the mammal would never display in its natural habitat. Such manners include chewing on concrete, swimming in a repeated circular motion and surfacing at the same spot in the tank.
Aquarium trainers often justify the orca’s suffering by reassuring you that Lolita and others like her serve an educational purpose to humans. But what is educational about forcing orcas to do tricks for human entertainment?
Wild orcas do not belong in confinement. It is ethically wrong and selfish for humans to use them for our own pleasure and personal gain. Lolita has lived a life of trauma and misery for so long that we’re not sure how she might react if suddenly freed into the ocean.
Fortunately, however, marine biologists have established rehabilitation plans to help orcas transition from captivity to freedom.
These rehabilitation plans aren’t intended to place orcas from one tank to another that’s bigger. Lolita would be introduced back into the ocean in a netted off cove, where she can do all of the things orcas are supposed to do, like swim freely, hunt for fish and interact with other orcas and ocean life. Such a space would include a rocky bottom, seaweed, fish, currents, and much more.
While many will say that Lolita and other orcas like her are healthy and cared for by experienced aquarium trainers, but in reality, these creatures are often met with abuse and cruelty from humans.
Aquarium trainers often appropriate captive orcas and other creatures to be ‘theirs’, which is simply untrue. Lolita and others like her aren’t ours and will never be. They’re not pets, nor the puppets these trainers have disguised them to be.
It’s not easy acknowledging your participation in a problem, but I urge you to reflect upon how you have directly or indirectly participated in animal captivity. I urge you to continue learning about the issue and to seek ways to help end it.
In fact, there are several ways that you can help right now. Share educational content about the issue and talk about it with family and friends. Sign and share petitions that demand the release of captive orcas and sea life. Donate to organizations that fight for orcas like Lolita. It’s never too late to learn, change our perspective and take action in the right direction.
To our dear Lolita, we have not forgotten you and we will never stop fighting for you.
Here are some links to learn more about Lolita and how to help her:
Blaine, V. “Lolita and Friends: An Ethical Examination of the Life Histories of Captive Orcas” (2016). Aquila – The FGCU Student Research Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1.
“Captured and Enslaved: Lolita’s Heartbreaking Story.” A SeaWorld of Hurt (PETA), retrieved from : seaworldofhurt.com/features/lolita/ August 13th, 2020.
Copeland, Eve, “Cognitive Enrichment Intervention for Captive Orcas” (2015). Senior Projects Spring 2015. 128.
“Why Do SeaWorld’s Orcas Need Sunscreen?” (2014). A SeaWorld of Hurt (PETA), retrieved from : seaworldofhurt.com/seaworlds-orcas-need-sunscreen/ le 13 août 2020.
Sullivan, Katherine, “Lolita: 50 Years Ago TODAY, I Was Abducted From My Ocean Home” (2020). PETA, retrieved from : peta.org/blog/lolita-orca-50-years-captivity-miami-seaquarium/ August 13th, 2020.