Miami Seaquarium says Lummi Nation's calls to release killer whale 'reckless and cruel'

MIAMI -- The Miami Seaquarium says it would be "reckless and cruel" to follow the Lummi Nation's calls to release Lolita, a killer whale that was captured in the Puget Sound 47 years ago.

Aquarium officials say releasing Lolita would expose her to a "wide variety of health threats," and agreed with those who argued the move would be "catastrophic."

The Lummi Nation has argued for the release of Lolita, since she was captured as a calf in the 1970s at Penn Cove near Coupeville. The whale has been a main attraction at Miami's Seaquarium for decades.

Lolita, or Tokitae as she is called by the Lummi Nation, is the only surviving member of the infamous Penn Cove roundup.

Read the Seaaquarium's full release below:

READ: Lummi Tribe works to free Lolita>>>

Miami Seaquarium statement: 

Miami Seaquarium has the utmost respect for the Lummi Nation and the services that the Lummi Business Council provides to its people.  However, the members of the Lummi Business Council are not marine mammal experts and are misguided when they offer a proposal that is not in the best interest of Lolita the orca.

As we have stated repeatedly, it would be reckless and cruel to risk her life by moving her from her home solely to satisfy the desire of those who do not understand or care that such a move would jeopardize her life and the life of the other killer whales in Puget Sound.  Moving Lolita to Puget Sound, what is now a foreign environment to her, would not only expose her to a wide variety of new health threats, but doing so could pose the same risks to the wild killer whale population. We will not allow her life to be treated as an experiment and we will not jeopardize her health by considering such a risky move.

A recent news article that published in The Miami Herald, whose reporter spoke to a dozen experts on killer whales around the nation including experts without a stake in Lolita’s case, advised against moving Lolita.  Douglas Wartzok and others agree that the stress of moving Lolita could be catastrophic.  The following is an excerpt from story:

“You have to face the fact that this is not a theoretical animal. This is one real animal that I think people on both sides of the conversation have to step back and say, ‘What’s best for this particular animal at this particular stage of her life?’” said Douglas Wartzok, professor emeritus and professor of biology at Florida International University, who has a Ph.D. in biophysics. “It’s not an easy answer, my opinion is it’s probably better to leave the animal where she has lived for the past 47 years.”

Shari Tarantino, president of the board of directors at Orca Conservancy, a Washington-based nonprofit organization told The Miami Herald last year she is concerned about Lolita’s ability to survive in a new environment.  “Killer whales and other cetaceans that have been in a facility for more than about two years have exhibited increased mortality rates when moved to a new setting.  Thus would be a bad candidate for moving out of her current facility.”

Instead of focusing on a perilous move that could endanger the life of Lolita, the attention of those concerned should be on the plight of the killer whales of Puget Sound, near the home of the Lummi Nation.  Over the past 23 years, the Southern Resident Killer Whale population has declined by an alarming 22% and is now listed as endangered.  Experts believe the reason for this rapid population decline can be attributed to overfishing of Chinook salmon, the killer whales’ prime food source, as well as boat noise and chemical runoff that has polluted Puget Sound.

Lolita will continue to be an ambassador for her species and educate park guests on the plight of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales from her home at Miami Seaquarium.

Eric A. Eimstad

General Manager