A Sad Whale Tale : Monday Magazine October 2010

A Sad Whale Tale: interview published online, Monday Magazine, October 2010
July 27, 2012 at 12:27pm

by Diane McNally on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:02am ·
Posted By: Jason Youmans 08/04/2010

Lolita’s supporters want her retired from show business and back in the wild

Forty years ago, Tokitae the Orca was separated from her family at the age of two during Washington State’s Penn Cove roundup. Since then, she has lived as “Lolita” at the Miami Seaquarium, entertaining spectators on demand. Today, she is believed to be the world’s oldest captive orca. On August 8, Lolita’s supporters around the world will mark the 40th anniversary of her capture and demand her gradual return to the wild waters of the Pacific Northwest. Here in Victoria, Diane McNally is heading up the local effort to see Lolita retired into freedom, and is organizing a downtown awareness demonstration on Sunday, August 8 at the corner of Government and View Streets from noon to 2 p.m. to build local support on the issue. McNally has been keeping an eye on cetacean—that means marine mammal—capture since Sealand of the Pacific was a 1970s Victoria fixture, and continues to be appalled by the living conditions, behaviour modification and psychological destabilization that are part and parcel of keeping giant creatures in small pens.

Monday Magazine: Why are you inviting people to mark the 40th anniversary of Lolita’s capture?
Diane McNally: I hope we can influence Arthur and Andrew Hertz, the owners of Miami Seaquarium (the most substandard and inadequate orca tank in North America), to acknowledge that what they are providing is actually torture of another species, presented as entertainment. That’s unlikely, but they could still agree that Lolita should be able to retire, after 40 years of daily performing on cue and bringing in millions of dollars for them. Orcas’ life spans are similar to humans’ – Granny (J2) is thought to be in her 90s and is still out there. We are focusing on Lolita as the last living orca captured from the Salish Sea Southern Residents. Many have died and some have killed themselves. Orca Network has a science-based plan to return Lolita to a sea pen here in her home waters, with lifetime care if she does not—or is unable to—return to her matriline (her mother-based family group), in L Pod. As soon as the Hertz father and son agree to retire Lolita, the money to support the plan will be raised. We are ready. As well, we hope people will boycott entertainment involving captive orcas.

MM: What can you tell us about how she came to be in captivity?
DM: Lolita was taken as a two-year-old in the brutal Penn Cove orca roundup of August 8, 1970.Orca families were driven into Penn Cove, just south of Anacortes. Mothers, babies, young adults, grandparents, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons were terrorized by seal bombs, speedboats and low flying aircraft, and were herded into prepared capture locations where nets awaited. Mothers and babies dove deep while other family members tried to create diversions, swimming visibly at the surface, but the aircraft spotted the mothers and babies heading out to Deception Pass where they had to surface to breathe. Reportedly, John Crowe, a member of the whale capture team who was in the water helping to secure the equipment, was so affected by the voices of the adult orcas communicating with their captured babies and children that he could not help crying. Protestors gathered on the shore, so the capture team worked at night to avoid them. Many orcas died, and in order to avoid increased media attention, the captors sank the orca corpses by tying chains and anchors to the bodies, slitting their stomachs and loading them with rocks. The sea brought some of these victims to shore, and one was found by local fishermen who took the body to the shoreline home of a Seattle Times reporter. There was a popular uproar.

In 1976, Sea World was banned from capturing orcas in Washington State, but 45 Puget Sound orcas were already in tanks as far away as Germany and Japan. At least 13 were dead, a minimum of 68 orcas removed from a population that at its highest hovered around 120.

By 1987, of these 45 captured Southern orcas, only Lolita (originally named Tokitae, a Chinook word meaning “beautiful day) remained alive. She has a large, growing and committed base of people trying to return her to Puget Sound. Demonstrations were held in 42 cities internationally on May 15, 2010, including Victoria.

The plan is return Lolita to a sea pen on the shore of the Sound. As Keiko was (the Free Willy orca, who died of pneumonia at 27, not starvation, and did well on his own), she would be slowly taught how to be a wild orca, and to catch her own fish. Her family regularly comes through these waters. Ideally, she would rejoin her relatives, but that would be her decision, and theirs. She may have been captive too long to go back to life as a free orca, but we believe even the sea pen would be an immense improvement over her tiny tank in Miami, which is now under threat from oil from the BP spill.

MM: Are we still seeing cetaceans captured and penned for our entertainment today?
DM: Order Cetacea includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. The dolphin capture industry is an ongoing and hugely profitable business, providing small cetaceans for theme parks and very profitable “swim with the dolphins” setups. One weak orca youngster was captured off Europe this summer, but this was an effort to “save” the orca, not a targeted capture. (Many people are concerned that the oceanarium where “Morgan” is now residing will decide that she is “too habituated to people” to be released.) In British Columbia, the last capture was in 1975. In 1997, a group of ten orcas was corralled by Japanese fishermen in a bay near Taiji (now of The Cove infamy). Five were released, and the remaining five were auctioned off to Japanese marine parks. They were transported overland or by sea to the aquariums. All five are now dead. A six-year-old old female was captured in 2003 off Kamchatka. She was transferred to an oceanarium 7,000 miles away on the Black Sea, where she died after less than a month in captivity.

Because of the general disapproval of wild captures now, captive breeding (and most often, this involves human sexual interference with orcas to obtain sperm and to artificially inseminate females, which is more protective of the investment than moving orcas around from facility to facility for breeding, though that is done as well) continues to produce orcas who have no family or culture, and who live barren lives in the waters of concrete tanks.

As of June 2010, about 41 orcas are held captive at facilities in North and South America, Europe and Japan, providing entertainment for the theme park visitors.

MM: What are the problems associated with keeping whales and dolphins captive?
DM: Observable negative effects are disease, health issues with chemicals in the water, aggression toward each other as a result of unrelated orcas forced to live together, aggression toward humans, self injury, and suicide. Orcas are highly intelligent, and socially and emotionally complex, so many orca researchers add the emotional toll of isolation from family members, the mental effects of continual boredom in unstimulating barren tanks, physical and mental stress from being unable to swim the normal range of perhaps hundreds of miles a day, lack of real connection and affection, and the overarching stress of a life of behaviour modification-based reward and punishment and lack of any decision-making power or volition.

Jean Michel Cousteau recently stated that it seems clear that it is time to end orca captivity.

MM: For those who want to take action against cetacean captivity, how would you suggest they take a stand?

DM: I encourage people to check out Howard Garrett and Susan Berta’s Orca Network pages (based in Penn Cove), and Shelby Proie’s SaveLolita.com page based in Miami. These are excellent sites for background information and for information on how to write or e-mail the Hertz family to support Lolita’s retirement. SaveLolita.com also has shirts you can customize and wear. Boycott the Miami Seaquarium, SeaWorld, and all orca shows and entertainment involving cetaceans worldwide. For more local information, e-mail me at freecaptiveorcas@gmail.com.

The smallest tank is Lolita Tokitae’s. It’s not as deep as she is long.

Lolita Tokitae's prison cell