SeaWorld's Orcas Are Moving to More "Natural" Environments, but What About Lolita?

Yesterday SeaWorld announced it would stop breeding orcas, the latest fallout from the Blackfish documentary. The news comes on the heels of the theme park's announcement that the company will also construct larger, more "natural" habitats for its killer whales.  

Miami activists celebrated the news — but were also left asking what it means for Lolita, the orca they've long petitioned to be removed from its tank at Miami Seaquarium. 

Wendy King, an animal rights activist from Pompano Beach, says she hopes the Seaquarium will follow SeaWorld's lead and move Lolita, the marine park's endangered nearly-50-year-old killer whale, to a more natural environment too, such as a proposed sea pen. 

"We truly hope Miami Seaquarium follows in SeaWorld’s footsteps and makes a change to their business model by retiring Lolita to a coastal sanctuary," she says. 

Seaquarium managers, though, say they're still performing valuable education by continuing Lolita's shows. 

"The marine mammal shows at Miami Seaquarium are constantly evolving in order to incorporate important educational and conservational elements," says the marine park's manager, Andrew Hertz. "As a result, several months ago, the killer whale presentation at Miami Seaquarium transitioned into an educational presentation about killer whales, their natural behaviors, and the endangered southern resident killer whale population." 
But the Seaquarium emphasizes that it does not plan to move Lolita. "We will continue our commitment to education, conservation, and the appreciation for all marine species, including Lolita," Hertz says. "All of the residents at the park play an important role in the mission of Miami Seaquarium to educate the public about the need to conserve the marine environment and its residents."

SeaWorld, though, has taken more drastic measures in response to outcry over orcas' treatment. In a statement Thursday, it said Americans' changing attitudes about killer whales in captivity made the changes necessary. 

"This year we will end all orca-breeding programs — and because SeaWorld hasn't collected a killer whale from the wild in almost four decades, this will be the last generation of orcas in SeaWorld's care. We are also phasing out our theatrical orca whale shows," SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby wrote in a statement. 
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.
Contact: Jonathan Kendall