Despite decades of protests from animal rights activists, the orca Lolita is still in captivity at Miami Seaquarium. Many wonder if she will ever be retired. Now a new celebrity has joined the activist chorus calling for Lolita's release from the marine park: Bob Barker.
The longtime The Price Is Right host and well-known animal advocate began 2018 by urging the Seaquarium to release the famed orca from her tank — the smallest enclosure in the world for a killer whale — and send her back to her native home, the Pacific Northwest. "I'm calling on the Miami Seaquarium to release the orca Lolita to a seaside sanctuary, where she would be able to feel the ocean currents," Barker says in a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ad.
Lolita was brought to the South Florida marine park in 1970 and, after the death of her male counterpart Hugo in 1980, has not interacted with another orca in nearly 40 years. She lives with much smaller Pacific white-sided dolphins, but animal rights activists say the dolphins' company doesn't count as proper companionship. Lolita's isolation from other southern resident killer whales, they argue, is cruel.
"Enough is enough!" Barker says in the video. "Miami Seaquarium, please make your new year's resolution to release Lolita."
Barker is one of several celebrities, including Jessica Biel, Daisy Fuentes, and Wilmer Valderrama, who have asked the marine park to "let the girl go." But the Seaquarium has brushed aside all criticisms of its captivity of Lolita, countering with the claim that moving her to a seaside sanctuary would be an experiment that could imperil her life.
Regardless of whether Barker persuades park officials to reconsider Lolita's be-exhibited-till-death trajectory, his words are poised to rouse more public interest to retire the orca. "Bob Barker banned furs as prizes from The Price Is Right, helped PETA persuade NASA to end radiation experiments on monkeys, and campaigned with PETA against traveling exotic-animal acts, leading to the closure of Ringing Bros. circus," PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk tells New Times. "Lolita has the best activist on her side in Bob Barker, and we hope the Miami Seaquarium will hear his plea."
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE...
Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jonathan Kendall is a former editor at Big Think. He studied journalism at Harvard and is a contributing writer for Miami New Times as well as for Vogue, Cultured, Los Angeles Review of Books, Smithsonian, and Atlas Obscura.