Weighing 7,000 pounds, Lolita is one of Miami's most sizable — and recognizable — residents. For more than 40 years, the killer whale has made her home in the smallest orca tank in the world at Key Biscayne's Miami Seaquarium.
For years, protesters have been clamoring for Lolita to be allowed to retire; they say she's at risk due to health problems, her extremely small enclosure, and loneliness (she's been the sole orca onsite since her companion died more than three decades ago). But Palace Entertainment, the owner of the Seaquarium, says Lolita is healthy and thriving and belongs where she is.
Saturday, April 1, protesters plan to gather in Miami to fight — yet again — for Lolita's freedom. More than 500 people are expected to attend, organizer Wendy King says.
The march will begin at 10 a.m. at Virginia Key Beach Park. From there, the group will march to the Seaquarium, hold a 90-minute protest, and return to the park at lunchtime, where there'll be vegan food trucks, vendors, charity raffles, and performances by singer Robbyne Kaamil and other musicians.
Wynwood's vegan bakery, Bunnie Cakes, will sell its Free Lolita vegan cupcakes the weekend of the march, and proceeds will benefit Orca Network and Lolita’s retirement plan.
Despite assertions by the Seaquarium that Lolita is in excellent condition, several experts examined her medical records and testified on behalf of the Orca Network, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) as part of a lawsuit against the marine park in 2016. They claimed Lolita is slowly going blind from sun and chlorine exposure, frequently wounded by the dolphins who share her tank, and suffers from stress ulcers. A judge dismissed the suit and said activists must take up the issue with lawmakers to update animal welfare laws to "improve Lolita's less than ideal [living] conditions."
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So what would happen to Lolita if the Seaquarium agreed to let her retire? "The plan for Lolita is to relocate her to a sea pen where she would receive full-time care and rehabilitation by marine experts," King says. "The location for the sea pen has already been arranged, and donors are standing by to make her retirement a reality." The whale would not be released into the wild, as per common misconception, King says. "In her new sea pen, Lolita would finally have the space and care she needs to thrive and live to be 100-plus years old like her wild orca counterparts."
However, the Seaquarium maintains its position and plans to keep Lolita where she is. The park's statement, from general manager Andrew Hertz, is as follows:
Lolita is healthy and thriving in her home of almost 47 years where she shares her habitat with Pacific white-sided dolphins. There is no scientific evidence that the approximately 50-year-old post-reproductive Lolita could survive if she were to be moved from her home at Miami Seaquarium to a sea pen or to the open waters of the Pacific Northwest.
It would be reckless and cruel to jeopardize Lolita’s health and safety by moving her from her home of 47 years. Miami Seaquarium is not willing to experiment with her life in order to appease a fringe group. These individuals will never be satisfied with the care she receives. Lolita is part of the Miami Seaquarium family and is as active and healthy as ever, a true testament to her care.
Lolita plays an important role in the mission of Miami Seaquarium to educate the public about the need to conserve the marine environment and its residents. We know firsthand the educational and inspirational experiences children and adults have when they see Lolita, our dolphins and the other marine mammals at our facility. More than 65,000 school children and 600,000 guests visit Miami Seaquarium each year to learn about Lolita and the other residents of the sea.
Lolita will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium.
The Miracle March for Lolita
10 a.m. Saturday, April 1, at Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Key Biscayne. Everyone is welcome. Visit Facebook for event info and to RSVP.