“She died as she had lived… in the smallest, bleakest orca tank in the world."
Back in 1970, halcyon days when Nixon was prez and Vietnam was getting lit up by Napalm and even before Kelly Slater existed, a little killer whale calf off the coast of Washington State was snatched out of the ocean and delivered to the Miami Seaquarium, one of the oldest fish zoos in the US.
And there, labelled Lolita, so-named after Nabokov’s famous nymphet, she lived, miserable, alone – her one companion, Hugo, killed himself by belting his head against the wall of their shared tank until he died in 1980 – until her death yesterday.
Lolita’s enclosure, measuring 80 feet by 35, offered the twenty-foot mammal minimal room to swim, interact and express natural behaviors.
“She died as she had lived: After spending more than five decades imprisoned by the Miami Seaquarium in the smallest, bleakest orca tank in the world, deprived of any semblance of a natural life, the long-suffering orca Lolita has passed away,” wrote People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in a statement. “Kind people begged the Miami Seaquarium to end Lolita’s hellish life in a concrete cell and release her to a seaside sanctuary, where she could dive deep, feel the ocean’s currents, and even be reunited with the orca believed to be her mother, but plans to make this move came too late, and Lolita was denied even a minute of freedom from her grinding 53 years in captivity.”
The lingering existence of Lolita had ignited fierce debate surrounding the ethics of keeping intelligent and social creatures like killer whales in captivity. Advocates argued that orcas are highly intelligent, emotionally sensitive, and have complex social structures in the wild.
In captivity, these traits are often stifled, leading to physical and psychological distress. Lolita’s case came to symbolize the broader issue of marine mammal captivity, prompting calls for greater awareness and changes in animal welfare practices.
Now, Kelly Slater, a man rarely one to mince his words, has called for the immediate imprisonment of her captors.
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In a comment posted to @Dolphin_Project, he writes “Sad. They should be jailed and fined.”
Commenters were universal in their praise although one had the misfortune to post a laughing emoji, raising the hackles of the world champ.
“Why do you find that funny?” he replied to Simone Gross, a young woman with 178 followers.
Marine parks, zoos, those drive-through African theme parks with the threadbare lions and defeated giraffes, reminders of the cruelty of man, I think.
I’m with ol Petey Singer when he said,
“To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter of baby seals in Canada while continuing to eat eggs from hens who have spent their lives crammed into cages, or veal from calves who have been deprived of their mothers, their proper diet, and the freedom to lie down with their legs extended, is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbors not to sell their houses to blacks.”