|Photo © Maris Sidenstecker I|
Orca in the wild from L-Pod, Lolita's pod,
Puget Sound, Washington
LOLITA Given Endangered Species Status
LOLITA, the orca, has been performing daily at the Miami Seaquarium for many decades after being captured on August 8, 1970 from the area of Whidbey Island off the State of Washington. The roundup included five orcas, including four babies who drowned during the capture. Lolita was and is a part of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population of orcas whose population is listed at around 80 individuals.
When the federal government protected Puget Sound orcas as endangered species in 2005, it excluded captive animals. Organizations and others petitioned in 2013 for Lolita to be included, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) granted her endangered status in February 2015. Genetic testing linked Lolita to the Southern Resident Pod.
It was hoped by the many groups and individuals working for her release that this would help to gain her freedom. For now, it doesn't appear as if anything will change for Lolita as a round of legal battles ensues. The ruling does not mean that she will get a bigger pool, return to the wild, or change much of anything according to NOAA officials. Lolita was 4 to 6 years old (some say she was only 3-4) when she was captured in 1970 and later sent to the Miami facility.
Her living conditions have long been criticized as her small tank is only 20 feet (6m) deep - making it the shallowest in the nation - and measures 60-by-80-feet (18 by 24m), and lacks shade from the sun. Orcas are social animals but Lolita is forced to live in this small tank in isolation.
Lolita lived for ten years with an orca named Hugo. Even though the pair mated many times, a calf was never produced. Hugo died March 4, 1980 after repeatedly smashing his head into the walls of the tank in what has been described as an act of suicide.
If Lolita were released, she would swim freely in a sea pen close to her family and in the waters where she was born. Human care would provide her with fish to eat and veterinary care. It is hoped she would learn to catch fish on her own, as Keiko did before he was released. See the
The plan is not without risk. Given the option of spending the last part of one's life confined in a small tank without companionship or living in a sea pen close to your family, it seems an apparent choice. See the video done on her behalf.
People question whether petitions help. This victory shows that they do. The 17,000 requests supporting Lolita receiving endangered status did factor in her favor. The Miracle March for Lolita held in cities across the country and Europe on January 17, 2015 showed that people care about Lolita and other animals in captivity.
Whale Turns Up a Long Way From Home
Another incident of a whale sighted a long way from its home waters indicates the effects of global warming. The whale was seen by a female diver off the Isles of Scilly on the remote island of St. Martin's near Cornwall, England. Anna Cawthray photographed the unusual whale with her mobile phone, and she immediately suspected it was out of the ordinary. It took emails between whale experts* in the United States and Britain to conclude that it was a young bowhead whale about 2000 miles from home.
This was the first sighting of a bowhead in the United Kingdom as their usual home is in the high Arctic near the ice edge, and their closest population is off Spitzbergen far to the north of Norway. Bowheads can reach up to 70 ft in length, weigh up to 90 tons, and live up to 200 years. The species has not been seen anywhere south of the Barents Sea, which is north of Norway.
The bowhead population was in serious decline during the early 20th century after being slaughtered by whalers, but the cessation of commercial whaling in the latter half of the last century has allowed their numbers to recover to somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000.
The native people of Alaska and Chukotka are legally authorized to take up to 336 bowhead whales of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort stock during the period 2013-2018, with no more than 67 whales struck in any year and up to 15 unused strikes carried over each year.
*Thomas A. Jefferson, Ph.D was one of the experts asked to determine the whale species. Tom heads our ¡Viva Vaquita! coalition of non-profit organizations, individuals and scientiists working to save the vaquita, "panda of the sea."