2403 North Bluff Rd.
Greenbank, WA 98253
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 6, 2011
Howard Garrett, (360)678-3451, cell (360)320-7176, firstname.lastname@example.org
Colleen Gorman, (727)367-6047, cell (508)631-2494, ColleenGorman@TheOrcaProject.com
Agency Refuses to Protect Captive Orca
An investigation has been demanded into a federal regulatory agency's lack of enforcement action against whale tank violations at the Miami Seaquarium.
For over four decades an orca named Lolita has been on display at the Miami Seaquarium in a concrete pool just 35 feet wide by 80 feet long, in violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Captured in 1970 from her family pod in Washington State, Lolita is confined in a tank that violates at least four provisions of the AWA.
Wendy Cooke of Sacramento, California, in collaboration with Orca Network, The Orca Project, and a broad range of groups and individuals nationwide, has sent a letter to the USDA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) requesting an investigation of the failure of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to take enforcement action against these AWA violations.
The most egregious violation concerns the minimum horizontal dimension of Lolita's tank. The AWA requires that the width of an enclosure for a whale must be twice the whale's average adult length. For a killer whale that's 24 feet, so the required minimum horizontal dimension is 48 feet according to APHIS.
But the distance from the front of the Seaquarium's whale pool to its opposite wall is only 35 feet-a clear violation of the Animal Welfare Act. APHIS has attempted a variety of evasions of its responsibilities over the years, from falsely stating that the tank is 60 feet wide, to claiming that the concrete platform that forms the back wall of the tank is a "floating island" held up by some sort of pedestal, to claiming that the back wall is only a "partial obstruction" without accounting for the fact that it blocks travel when the gates next to the platform are closed.
In 2005 the USDA's OIG cited the Eastern Regional Division of APHIS for "not aggressively pursuing enforcement actions against violators of the AWA." This record of APHIS's disregard for its statutory obligations continues in regard to these flagrant violations of the AWA committed by the Miami Seaquarium.
On June 6, 2011, Wendy Cooke wrote to the OIG, stating,
With the full knowledge and acquiescence of APHIS, Lolita has been confined for over 40 years in an inhumanely undersized tank that violates several aspects of the Animal Welfare Act:
· Lolita's tank, which is the smallest orca tank in North America, is 13 feet shorter than is required by the Animal Welfare Act (Section 3.104).
· Lolita has no shade to protect her from direct sunlight and no protection from the weather, including hurricanes. Her exposure to sun and weather violates Section 3.103(3)(b) of the Animal Welfare Act.
· Lolita's pool does not meet the perimeter fence requirements to keep animals and unauthorized people out, nor does it protect her from abuse and harassment by the public. [Sections 3.103(3)(c) and 3.101(2)]
· Lolita has not been in the company of another orca since 1980. This highly social marine mammal is subjected to this solitude in the unfounded belief that her dolphin tank mates are an acceptable replacement for a member of her own species. Only a related family member would be appropriate as Lolita's companion. [Section 3.109]
In a June 2, 2011, letter to Cooke, Eastern Regional Director for Animal Care Elizabeth Goldentyer, DVM, wrote,
"...shade and protection from weather is provided by the stadium seating around Lolita's pool..." despite aerial photographs showing the entire tank exposed to direct sunlight.
Hunter Shaffer, a 13-year-old disabled activist from New York State who is dedicated to retiring Lolita to her native waters in Washington, says,
"Orcas are highly intelligent and social marine mammals that typically swim 75-100 miles a day and repeatedly dive to several hundred feet. Lolita is alone and cannot swim any distance except in tight circles in a pool that is not as deep as she is long."
Shaffer has gathered over 1,700 signatures on a petition asking APHIS to help "retire Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium, and rehabilitate her in Puget Sound."
Kelly J. Conner, RN, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recently wrote a letter to APHIS bringing attention to the wording of the AWA:
...Lolita's tank is 80 feet across and 35 feet from the front of her tank to the work station. From the rear portion of the work station to the back of the tank the measurement is 25 feet. While I am going to assume that your office is adding the 35 feet and 25 feet measurement together to come up with a measurement of 60 feet, the fact remains that the regulation clearly states "with a straight line of travel across the center." Enclosed is a photograph which demonstrates that the work station is solid and therefore impedes the straight line of travel across the center of Lolita's tank.
Paragraph three of your letter to me dated April 21, 2011, states, "We take very seriously any allegations of noncompliance with the AWA." In that event, I would like some explanation from your office as to why after several decades of complaints, including but not limited to one filed by Humane Society International in 1995 regarding Lolita's tank, Miami Seaquarium has not been forced to comply with the minimum standards of the law.
If APHIS were to enforce the AWA and shut down the illegal Miami Seaquarium tank holding Lolita, this lonely orca could retire after over 40 years of captivity to rejoin her well-known family pod in Puget Sound. Killer whales are bonded to their mothers' families for their entire lives, and Lolita still vocalizes using her pod's unique calls. The Seaquarium could enjoy positive public perceptions from helping to humanely retire Lolita, instead of the overwhelming negative publicity of letting her die as a display whale.
It's almost certain that Lolita's life span would be greatly extended if she were to return to her family. Wild female orcas live an average of 50 years, with many thriving well past their 80th birthdays. In contrast, Lolita is the last survivor of 45 Southern Resident Killer Whales that were captured for display in marine parks between 1965 and 1973. Most of those captured orcas died after just a few years of captivity. And if Lolita dies in her tiny, forlorn concrete tank, the Miami Seaquarium will face the anger of hundreds of thousands of orca lovers worldwide.