It's Miami's aquatic equivalent of "Free Mumia." Activists hold protests and send urgent e-manifestos. But they succeed in swaying all but the two guys who could do anything about it. And Lolita, Miami Seaquarium's long-captive orca, goes on munching chum and belly-flopping in her bathtublike tank.
The 38-year-old killer whale has sparked controversy since she was first sold to Seaquarium for $6,000 in 1970 after being snatched from her family pod in Puget Sound — a practice now effectively banned there. Lolita's defenders decry not only confining such an intelligent marine mammal, but also the size of her tank, which is less than two of her body lengths wide at any point. "That's like living your whole life in your closet," activist Shelby Proie says.
As Lolita nears 40, there's a renewed push for her "retirement," especially as Seaquarium touts a new $5 million swimming-with-dolphins facility, making the rickety killer whale tank seem like a marketing afterthought. Activists want to see her moved to a sea pen, where it is hoped she might eventually re-join family. And the movement has gained some celebrity friends: Hollywood producer Raul Julia-Levy, son of the late actor Raul Julia, recently told Newsweek he was planning a benefit concert for Lolita, with Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent onboard.
It better be soon. Lolita is elderly by captive standards. "She probably has another five years in there, at most," Proie says. "She's tired."
Seaquarium's management is underwhelmed. "There's nothing new to the story, from our perspective," says Michelle Palomino, spokesperson for the Virginia Key puddle collection.
Adds saccharine-sweet Seaquarium general manager Andrew Hertz: "Lolita will remain at Seaquarium surrounded by people who love and protect her."
Feeling masochistic and plum out of nipple clamps, Riptide decided to play Humbert Humbert. So we headed to Seaquarium and paid $43 for parking and entry, but passed on the seven-dollar Coke in a souvenir cup. After watching spandex-clad volunteers ride sea mammals around a tank to "Surfin' U.S.A.," we skulked over to Lolita's stadium. While the meager crowd mostly cheered the flopping whale, Wanda Campbell left midshow, trailing her young son. "It's just sort of sad, isn't it?" she said.