Danielle Daals has been making the most of every minute with her family lately, from relishing strolls in the park with her pup Maxwell, a rescue, to savoring sips of coffee during chats with her mom Stephanie. Because next week, the New Zealander plans to travel across the world to South Florida, where she's going to live in a bathtub for a whole month.
“I am doing this because having cetaceans in captivity is simply cruel and barbaric and in this day and age it should not be happening,” she said. “These creatures are sentient beings with thoughts and feelings like our own. They belong in the wild, plain and simple.”
While Daals said her demonstration is on behalf of all cetaceans in captivity, she chose to focus on the Seaquarium’s killer whale because she believes animal rights activists are in a race against time to retire the nearly 50-year-old Lolita.
“By doing this, I am hoping it will bring more awareness for Lolita’s plight and that of all captive cetaceans and hopefully encourage people not to buy a ticket to these prisons for cetaceans,” she said.
Miami Seaquarium did not respond to a message from New Times to comment on Daal's planned protest, but last year the park's employees defended Lolita's quality of life in captivity after ending live shows with the creature — a move that followed a critical safety report from OSHA. "Lolita will continue to receive the same care, stimulation, and attention that she has for nearly 45 years," the park said at the time. "She will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium."
But for the last two decades animal rights activists like Daals have argued that after 45 years of performing, Lolita deserves to be retired to her native habitat and freed from her tank, which they claim is too small for a far-roaming animal of her size.
“I would like to tell Miamians to please support Lolita’s retirement and please spread the word of this demonstration for Lolita. Never give up fighting for her, even when it feels like a never-ending uphill battle,” Daals said. "Orca Conservancy has a very viable retirement plan in place for Lolita should she be retired, so the only thing standing in her way of happiness and freedom is Palace Entertainment [the owner of the Miami Seaquarium]."
The locally based animal advocacy group Animal Activists Network (AACTN), whose members regularly picket the marine park on the weekends, has been instrumental in making Daals' bathtub demonstration idea a reality.
“Animal Activists Network has been a huge help," Daals said. "They have organized everything for me. Without them, none of this would have been possible."
The founder of the AACTN,
"What we hope to achieve for this event is to raise awareness for Lolita and all animals inside the Miami Seaquarium," he wrote in a statement. "Now that we have formed a working relationship with Orca Conservancy, we also want to start raising money that will go into a 'trust fund' that can only be used for the sole purpose of an actual rehabilitation/release pen for any cetacean that could be released. These monies cannot and will not be used for anything at all other than a bona fide sanctuary."
In the meantime, Daals is still getting packed and organized for her upcoming trip, which she says will not only be the farthest she has ever been from her home,
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"While I am looking forward to coming over and doing this for Lolita, I am also very emotional about it, as I will be leaving my family for more than a month with no contact with them," she said. "Leaving my son the day after his second birthday is by far the hardest part of all this, but I need to keep reminding myself that I am also doing this to teach him to stand up for animals in need, and there is no better way to do that than by showing him."
The messages she has received from supporters of her demonstration have been a major source of encouragement for her to continue with her plan despite the time away from her family.
“I have had many messages of support from people worldwide which I am so grateful for,” she said. “I would love to meet fellow Lolita supporters while I am in Miami. They are more than welcome to visit me outside Miami Seaquarium. I'll be the young woman in the bathtub.”
New Times has contacted the Miami Seaquarium but has not received a statement yet. If we get one, then this article will be updated.