[Ed. Note: This is posted today to remind our readers of other orcas held in captivity for entertainment, like Tilikum was. Lolita was captured from Puget Sound in 1971 and has lived at the Miami Seaquarium ever since to this day, February 27, 2009.]
By Howard Garrett, Orca Network
Hopefully the USDA will inspect and measure the concrete bowl where Lolita has lived the past 39 years and will find it unlawful under the Animal Welfare Act, and $1-2 million can be found to examine her, transport her to a bay pen along the west side of San Juan Island, and set up a care station with a freezer full of fish and professional care staff. It's all been done before and poses no real risk to her or to her family, but many may wonder what will happen then for Lolita.
After her return to her home waters, as she regains her strength and is led out on swims to experience her waters again, Lolita will be the focus of tremendous attention in the Pacific Northwest and far beyond. Of course security at the bay pen will prevent direct observations except by authorized personnel and media, but live webcam coverage and stories about her can be expected to abound locally, nationally and internationally.
When someone reads or sees a story about Lolita they will usually tend to care a little more about how she's doing. The reports will also tell about her family, L-25 and the L-12 subpod as well as all the Southern Resident orcas. People will learn about the orcas' long lifespans, lifetime bonding and no dispersal traditions. They'll hear about these orcas' selective diet - about 80% Chinook salmon and 15% chum - and the need to restore salmon habitat and reduce Chinook catches all along the Pacific coast to keep the orcas around. This alone justifies her return home.
Scientifically, we'll learn if Lolita's family bonds and memories are so strong that she will be able to travel, catch fish and socialize with her family, and we'll see the process of rebuilding the trust needed to do so. If she's not able to rejoin her family, the care station will always be there for her with food and companionship if needed.
Humans live according to their stories, and whales provide great inspiration for all ages to learn more and then act to protect and restore the natural world. When kids hear about Lolita and her retirement where she was raised decades ago, many will want to know more, and will do research and feel moved to write their views about orcas and create artwork about them, developing important language skills and learning how to do good science.
The benefits of retiring Lolita in the Salish Sea won't be easy to measure in dollars, but as a learning and sharing experience among the human community, and as a motivator toward better stewardship and protection of our precious marine environment, Lolita would be a priceless teacher for us all.
See all the Free Lolita Updates since March, 1999.