As an organization, we are not against captivity. When housed properly, captive animals can lead psychologically sound, enriching, healthy, and rewarding lives. Please refer to our Blackfish essay. Yet, we do find that the circumstances in which Lolita is presently housed to be less than satisfactory. We do not support the criteria utilized to outline her current care. Her current tank is too small by expert suggested standards, and keeping her in the equivalent of solitude confinement is contradictory to how this species has evolved. Without question, her situation does require immediate attention. Yet this is a complicated scenario.
Many well-intentioned members of the public are calling for “release at all costs”. This new NOAA declaration actually opens the doors for such a lawsuit to emerge. Before going down that road, we STRONGLY urge everyone to temporarily check emotions at the door and consider the possible outcomes. As we are monitoring these events, we are viewing comments such as “Lolita can finally be reunited with her family” as reoccurring themes. This is a fairytale mentality. Sadly, this unscientific way of thinking will only get Lolita sentenced to a slow agonizing death. Remember Keiko’s fate? Let’s not make the same mistake twice!
Lolita has spent 44 years in total dependence on humans. She possesses intense bonds with her trainers and husbandry team. Sudden severing of such ties would psychologically and emotionally impact this animal on a tremendous level. The oceans can be a harsh and unforgiving environment. In the wild, orcas possess complex hunting strategies and work together in intricate formations to feed. Lolita does not possess exposure to these practices, nor support from fellow orcas. A new pod will not simply welcome her in because humans wish for it. For 44 years, her sushi grade food has been served up by mankind. She does not possess the necessary hunting skills to be successful in the wild. These basic survival skills were not cultivated. Furthermore, her immune system has adapted to highly filtered water. Exposure to high levels of toxins, pollution, parasites, and other contaminants found in our oceans would be detrimental to an animal that has spent so long in captivity. Releasing this animal into the wild or a sea pen is not the solution. Energy, time, and money would be better served (and in Lolita’s best interest) to create a more enriching, bigger, and conducive captive environment. If the Seaquarium cannot provide that, then maybe another organization should step in.
If the outlined reasons are not sufficient enough to protect Lolita from release, the ESA will have their hands full with their own ruling. Section 9 prohibits against "take" of a protected animal. This circumstance is unique in that the animal is already in captivity. A legal case could be made that seizing a protected animal and releasing it into the wild is a violation of this "take" clause. The waters are muddy and regardless of where a person stands on captivity, everyone needs to focus efforts on handling this tricky situation in the best interest of Lolita. Decisions need to be rooted in science and veterinary knowledge instead of emotion and delusion.