Letter From the Mayor of Miami

----- Original Message -----
From: Suarez, Regina (Mayor's Office)
To: 'Orcaman'
Sent: Friday, June 20, 2003 12:04 PM
Subject: RE: Lolita

The Mayor would like to share the results of his recent inquiries into the quality of care for Lolita, the Orca at the Miami Seaquarium.

As you may be aware, two federal laws govern the Miami Seaquarium's operations; they are the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, administer the AWA. The MMPA is administered by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Generally speaking, the AWA covers the care and treatment of animals such as those permanently at Miami Seaquarium, while the MMPA covers the protection of animals in the wild. The Miami Seaquarium is licensed by APHIS, which conducts periodic inspections of the park. To insure that all standards are being maintained, APHIS inspections are conducted frequently, without prior warning and on a random schedule. Penalties for non-compliance include fines, license suspension and/or license revocation.

The written record from APHIS indicates that it has extensively reviewed all issues surrounding the care and maintenance of Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium in recent years. Lolita's facility meets both the letter and the intent of federal regulations, APHIS has concluded. Following a Lolita-specific inspection, responding to citizen letters about her living environment, the deputy administrator of APHIS for animal care wrote: "We found Lolita to be healthy, and she and the other marine mammals at the facility are receiving excellent veterinary care."

Lolita is about 35 years old, and is in excellent health; her life expectancy is an additional 20 years. She has had companion dolphins for many years. After living in a safe and humane environment at the Miami Seaquarium for more than three decades, a number of reasons argue persuasively against releasing Lolita into the ocean:

· Lolita has learned to trust humans completely, which could endanger her in the wild.

· Lolita is accustomed to being fed, and has lost her ability to hunt for live fish.

· Scientists believe that animals that have been under human care for more than 10 years are poor, at-risk candidates for release.

· Orcas in the wild are social animals, traveling in pods that do not accept outsiders; in order to survive, Lolita would need to become part of a pod and achieve acceptance among other whales - an event that almost certainly would not occur.

Since its opening in 1955, the Miami Seaquarium has successfully released hundreds of injured and stranded manatees, sea turtles, dolphins and pilot whales. This is not surprising since the Miami Seaquarium is one of the oldest and most respected institutions dedicated to marine husbandry and research. Its decision not to release Lolita follows thoughtful analysis that concluded it would be an irresponsible and life-threatening undertaking. The Miami Seaquarium will not experiment with Lolita's health and safety.

Moreover, plans are underway to construct a new pool for Lolita, more than twice as long (150 feet) at the surface and half-again deeper (30 feet) than the existing one. This investment in Lolita's habitat seems to reflect a genuine interest on the part of the Miami Seaquarium to provide the optimal environmental conditions for all of the animals in its care.

I hope our findings are of assistance to you. Do not hesitate to contact our office should you have additional questions or concerns.

Regina Suarez
Director of Constituent Services
Miami-Dade County Office of the Mayor
Phone (305) 375-5071
Fax (305) 372-6039

Howard Garrett's Response to the Mayor