Update: Jeff Geragi says, to clarify, that the Orca Convervancy’s plan has been reviewed by experts and that it includes NOAA approved concepts. However, Howard Garrett of the Orca Network told New Times that there is no process that would result in a NOAA approval to retire Lolita. He said NOAA will only review a plan if there is "an agreement [with the Miami Seaquarium] or a court order to retire [Lolita]."New Times is awaiting NOAA's response.
For the past three weeks, self-professed “animal rights warrior” Danielle Daals has been living in a bathtub in front of Miami Seaquarium to protest the marine park’s captivity of cetaceans, including Lolita the orca.
Jeff Geragi, president of the Miami-based Animal Activists Network, whose members helped plan Daals’s bathtub protest, says her drastic action has been a success. Dozens of vehicles have turned away from the Seaquarium after seeing Daals in the bathtub.
“Fifty-one last week and 64 the week before,” Geragi says of the number of customers who have turned away. “Most people do no care about animals, but when we see another human, we make the connection. It helps to give them something they can relate to.”
The protest is the latest international move to raise awareness about Lolita, an endangered southern resident killer whale that has lived at the Seaquarium for nearly 50 years. Critics say her tank is too small and she should be returned to her native habitat.
“You could tell from the number of car honks and thumbs up and people who stopped by to encourage her that she is making a difference,” says animal rights activist Wendy King, a Pompano Beach resident who visited Daals yesterday for a few hours. “Danielle’s efforts have definitely brought Lolita’s story to a whole new audience.”
King says people from around the world have visited Miami to witness Daals, a New Zealand native, protest and perform tricks in the bathtub, which she has done from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of her weeks-long protest. Her demonstration has also garnered international media coverage from outlets such as Univision and the New Zealand Herald.
The Seaquarium has not responded to New Times' request for comment about Daals or her protest. But the park's management has regularly defended Lolita's captivity as safe and healthy. "Lolita will continue to receive the same care, stimulation, and attention that she has for nearly 45 years," the park said last year after prohibiting human trainers from performing with the creature. "She will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium."
Activists, though, urge the park to work with Michael Harris, a board member of the Orca Conservancy, to retire Lolita to a sea pen immediately because they fear the orca’s health may abruptly deteriorate. They point to Tilikum, the orca at Sea World featured in the documentary Blackfish, which has been ailing lately.
“Now with Tilikum getting sick, let’s hope we can get [Lolita] retired soon,”
Daals will end her demonstration Sunday, but activists say they'll continue mounting protests outside the park.
“Danielle’s demonstration has really inspired me,” King says. “She is brave as hell to put her life on hold and fly to another country to fight for an orca! I have no doubt that we will see activists using the tub in demonstrations after she has gone home to New Zealand.”
Before the end of the bathtub demonstration, King will host a 24-hour protest alongside Daals, from 11 a.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday.
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Daals tells New Times that her stay in Miami has been exciting in terms of getting to know local activists but that at times she was disheartened to see Seaquarium patrons laugh at her and other protesters in front of the marine park.
Still, Daals says she has relished seeing cars turn away from park and hopes more local residents will join her in her demonstration before it ends.
“I would like to tell all Miamians to spread the word on Lolita’s plight and to get down to the Miami Seaquarium and show your support,” she says.