A captive orca named Lolita is too ill to perform for paying visitors to the Miami Seaquarium. Lolita is 40 years old, and is suffering from a tooth infection. While this dental problem may seem insignificant, for orcas it is believed tooth abscesses may actually be contributing to their shortened life spans in captivity. Possibly due to stress or to establish dominance, some orcas bite steel gates which damages their teeth. Once their teeth are damaged, they are more prone to infections. Other than daily flushes and antibiotics, the treatment is to drill the tooth into the pulp below. This is done without local anesthetic, though the orcas are in pain while it takes place, according to the Orca Project.
The capture and training of orcas for entertainment at aquariums has been defended as educational, but critics say there is very little education, and a clear emphasis on having them do tricks to please paying crowds, like the exploitation of circus animals. Six hundred thousand visitors come to the Seaquarium every year. One adult ticket costs $38.95, and a child’s is $28.95. Also, 88 episodes of the TV show “Flipper” were recorded at the Seaquarium. One of Flipper’s former trainers is featured in a documentary titled Lolita: Slave to Entertainment showing how these animals are exploited for profit.
An organized effort to rescue Lolita from captivity called SaveLolita has been established. She was captured from waters off the coast of Washington state several decades ago, along with a number of other orcas. She is the last remaining survivor of that group. Her tank has been said for decades to be far too small. It is only 21 deep, yet she is 21 feet long
Debbi Fincher, an orca advocate who interned at Seaquarium in the 1980s described the Lolita situation: “She has been living in an illegal tank at the Seaquarium for the last 39 years, and has taken a backseat to the newly developed swim-with-the-dolphins program. This backseat has raised controversy as to why she shouldn’t be retired, because the Seaquarium won’t build her a bigger tank. Surrounding the controversy with the rising number of orca attacks at Sea World, she could be the first of a new generation of orcas being retired back to their natural habitat.” Source: (Pnwlocalnews.com)
Lolita may be nearing the end of her life, as many orcas in captivity don’t live as long as she has. (She is 42 and captive orcas typically live for 25 years or less.) Still, some believe it may be possible to retire her from the entertainment business, and gradually release her back into the wild.
Image Credit: Piotr Domaradzki