The phrase “Free Lolita” is often used by those who think they know what’s best for a killer whale that has been at Miami Seaquarium for 44 years. But I wonder if the individuals who make this statement truly understand what it would mean to Lolita?
In her April 25 letter, Retire Lolita, Rosa Sugrañes states authoritatively what’s in the best interest of Lolita, without having any background or knowledge of animal husbandry, specifically marine mammals in the care of humans. I have known Lolita since 1977, when I began working with her as a trainer and caretaker. While I no longer work with her on a daily basis, I still visit her regularly and cherish my close relationship with her. I can unequivocally attest that she is the same engaging and gentle whale that she was when I met her more than 36 years ago.
Any suggestion that moving her back to the wild or to a sea pen in Puget Sound is in her best interest is absurd. Life in the wild can be cruel and unforgiving. The Southern Resident killer whale population of Puget Sound is a prime example of the harshness of nature. In recent years, due to pollution, loss of food supply and disruption of their environment, this killer whale population has been in decline.
Does Lolita swim 100 miles each day? No, she doesn’t have to. Killer whales in the wild swim long distances because they have to in their search for food. The more abundant the food source, the less distance whales will travel. In contrast, Lolita has a constant and extremely high-quality food supply hand fed to her every day.
Is Lolita’s pool as big as the Puget Sound? No, but what’s important to Lolita’s well-being is her quality of life. Each day her trainers ensure that Lolita and her companion Pacific white-sided dolphins are mentally and physically engaged through play periods, training sessions, public presentations and husbandry sessions.
When discussing the idea of releasing Lolita back to the wild, one only needs to remember the sad saga of Keiko the killer whale of Free Willy fame. More than $15 million were spent trying to re-introduce Keiko to the wild, only to have him show up in Norway begging for food from local fishermen. Instead of living free, Keiko died at a young age of pneumonia alone in a fenced-off fiord.
Lolita is a 48-year-old geriatric, post-reproductive killer whale who has thrived in her home at Miami Seaquarium. After almost 44 years here, Lolita has been protected from the viruses and pathogens to which the killer whale population in Puget Sound has been exposed. To uproot her would be cruel and heartless. Lolita is at home at Miami Seaquarium.
Eric Eimstad, vice president and chief marketing officer, Miami Seaquarium, Miami