By Sally Deneen
Message from Seattle to Miami: Give us back our whale.
Seattle wants Lolita, star of the Miami Seaquarium tourist
attraction for the past 31 years and the nations
longest-performing killer whale. More than 5,000 people
have signed petitions and hundreds of children have scrawled
crayon drawings in protest. They are urging a resistant
Arthur Hertzchairman of the Seaquariums parent
company, Wometco Enterprises of Coral Gables, Floridato
return his graceful money-maker to Washingtons Puget
Sound, where she was captured in 1970 at age six.
Miami, Lolita is a leaping crowd-pleaser. But to Seattle,
Lolita is a potential savior of a Pacific Northwest symbol.
The number of wild orcas in Puget Sound has plummeted
from 98 to 80 in just six years, due to three presumed
reasonsa lack of salmon to eat, a buildup of PCBs
in their bodies from spending decades in toxic waters,
and stress from being viewed too closely by motorboaters.
Healthy Lolita, at age 37, is young enough by wild orca
standards to mother a few calvesboosting hopes for
the dwindling population.
lives in a cramped and algae-stained 500,000-gallon tank
at the Miami Seaquarium. Environmentalists want her returned
to her native Puget Sound." ~Kenneth
Balcomb, Marine Biologist - Center for Whale Research.
Nobody can say with certainty she could produce
a calf if returned in the next few years, but I think
its likely, says Howard Garrett, past president
of the nonprofit Orca Conservancy in Greenbank, Washington.
Returning Lolita is humane, adds Garrett. She could live
to 60, or maybe even 90, in the wild. Yet, she is near
the end of the typical captive orcas lifespan. Lolita
still makes squeaky calls unique to her family, and biologists
believe she would be welcomed like a long-lost relative,
says naturalist Cindy Hansen, a whale-watching narrator
for Washington-based Mosquito Fleet.
a FedEx district manager offered to fly Lolita home, the
Seaquarium has declined. Lolita is home, says
Andrew Hertz, a Seaquarium vice president. He acknowledges,
however, that she deserves a pool five times bigger than
her current 500,000-gallon tank. A $17.5 million pool
is expected to open within two years. Whether it will
please critics remains to be seen.
is dependent on being hand-fed daily, and she has lost
her abilities to hunt for food. She shares her habitat
with Pacific white-sided dolphinsanimals that could
be part of her diet if she were in the wild, wrote
Seaquarium General Manager Robert Martinez in a letter
published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Balcomb's retirement plan
protesters are undaunted. Hansen has mailed hundreds of
colorful childrens drawings to Wometco. Wrote one
child: We saw Lolitas family today. Please
send her home.
The Campaign to bring Lolita