Animal rights activists have been pushing Miami Seaquarium for two decades to release Lolita, a now-50-year-old orca held in the smallest tank in the nation. Protesters have marched on the Virginia Key park and held news conferences, but now a 29-year-old New Zealander has a different idea to draw attention to the cause.
Danielle Daals says she'll live in a bathtub outside the Seaquarium for one month.
“Living in a bath tub is the best analogy for [Lolita's] situation. [In the wild,] Orcas swim so many miles a day that their tanks are the equivalent to a bath tub!” the Kiwi tells New Times. “No one has lived in a bathtub to support her freedom, which is why i'm hoping this will gain so much attention.”
For 45 years, the orca has lived in captivity at the Seaquarium, whose representatives maintain that the animal is “healthy and thriving” in her fish-bowl-shaped tank. But calls for her release have grown louder in recent years, especially in the wake of the documentary Blackfish, which focused on problems with orcas in captivity.
Earlier this summer, the Seaquarium announced its trainers will no longer perform live shows with the animal in response to concerns from OSHA about their safety.
"Lolita has been a member of the Miami Seaquarium family for nearly 45 years. In that time, our trainers have forged a special bond with Lolita," the park said in a statement at the time. "Lolita will continue to receive the same care, stimulation, and attention that she has for nearly 45 years. She will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium."
Animal activists such as Daals say removing humans from the tank isn't enough — Lolita should be freed. That's why Daals says she'll come to town next summer to stage her bathtub stunt.
"I want everyone to know that using animals for entertainment and holding them in captivity is so old-fashioned and cruel," she says. "Over the years, we have learned that captivity is wrong. No matter how we try to simulate their natural environment, without freedom, captivity is always captivity."
Would living in a bathtub in protest be legal? An officer with the Miami-Dade Police Department tells New Times that Daals might be allowed to hold the demonstration in the tub as long as it is not on the marine park’s private property. However, if the demonstration poses a safety concern for Daals and/or traffic, police might step in.
For what it's worth, Daals plans to be fully clothed for the demonstration.
"This is a peaceful protest, and I will be fully clothed in the bathtub with no water. There should be no safety concerns for anyone, including myself," she says.
Several animal rights groups have pledged their support to Daals.
"If this could be pulled off, I think it could bring a tremendous amount of awareness to Lolita's plight over these past 45 years and put pressure on Miami Seaquarium to finally retire her," says Geragi Jeff, cofounder of the locally based Animal Activists Network, which holds weekly demonstrations at the marine park.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says it will also help Daals if it can.
“A month may be an unthinkable stretch of time to spend confined to a bathtub, but the orca Lolita has been confined to the smallest orca tank in North America for more than four decades," says Jared Goodman, the director of animal law at PETA.
Miami Seaquarium did not immediately respond to New Times' request for comment about Daal's plan.