Humanity's treatment of nature and our environment has always been very much about how our society lives and interacts with not just nature, but one another.
That's why we've been so heartened to see how online social networks, such as facebook and twitter, have allowed organizations to work and organize together on important issues in brand new ways.
We all know the power of word of mouth and social networks in our own lives, but it really does take social networking to save whales too. Through facebook and twitter we've been in contact with dedicated advocates, one of the most dedicated is Jeff Friedman. Jeff volunteers with The Climate Project, BlueVoice.org, Orca Network, and Orca Lab. Last weekend Jeff traveled to Miami to protest the conditions that Lolita (an Orca taken out of the wild 40 years ago) has been kept in at Miami Seaquarium. Below Jeff shares with us what it was like to see Lolita in person. We want to thank Jeff for his tireless efforts fighting captivity.
I want to share my experience at Miami Seaquarium. First, my disclaimer: I did not pay admission to get in. As someone who is against keeping orcas and other dolphins in captivity, I will not support these places financially. I was given a free entrance pass which had been donated to a friend.
Hopefully by now you've seen the photos and read Lolita's story, and even though I had seen many pictures i was not prepared to see first hand how bad Lolita's situation really is. Pictures don't capture depth. Just as pictures of the Grand Canyon can never convey its true size and depth, pictures of her tank do not convey the lack of size and depth.Many hotels and health clubs have larger pools. Her tank is like a large backyard swimming pool. As soon as I walked in this reality hit me and has stayed with me. I had seen many pictures beforehand, but none of them prepared me well for its true lack of size. 40 years in that pool is unimaginable.
I will also say that Lolita is beautiful. That hit me right away too and it was surreal to see this orca in front of my eyes that I have read so much about. Suddenly, the injustice being done to her became more real to me.
Lolita is mostly unavailable for public observation. Unlike other marine parks (SeaWorld), you can only see Lolita during her 2 shows a day. The public was allowed to entered the stadium 10 minutes before the show. Lolita listlessly floated near the front of her tank, as the stadium music blares loudly, she looked at people for a few minutes. Then she sank to the bottom and was still for several minutes, up for a breath and a look, then back to the bottom. Barely moving.
During the show itself, I was shocked at the lack of Lolita's presence. In the intro the trainer asked in a salesy voice, "Where is the one place in the world where you can see a killer whale swim and play with Pacific white-sided dolphins?" Of course her answer was Miami Seaquarium, but I was thinking British Columbia. The show is 20 minutes. Lolita swims around with a trainer standing on her back, breaches 3 or 5 times, tail slaps, pec slaps, demonstrates her L pod calls and splashes water on the first 6 rows. Hardly 20 minutes worth of material. So they spread it out. She does one "trick" then swims to the platform for 3 to 5 minutes, mouth open, catching dead fish from a trainer while the Pacific dolphins take over the show. Then Lolita does a breach or another "trick" and back to the platform for another 3 to 5 minutes. Combined, literally, she is performing for maybe 5 minutes of the 20 minute show. The dolphins played a much larger role. I cried the entire show.
I don't know why she's not the main feature of the show, there are rumors and speculation though. Apparently her long time trainer left a year or so ago and there is talk that Lolita has not been the same since and this is impacting her ability/desire to perform. There are rumors that she shows signs of depression and her food is being laced with prozac.
At the end of the show, Lolita immediately swims to the corner of the tank. She was not able to access the back tank, which was gated off and had the 6 Pacific white-sided dolphins. Lolita waits there in front of her trainers, at one point with her mouth open as if she was waiting for food. Yet they completely ignore Lolita, instead watching the dolphins and talking to each other. Lolita then floated still with her head against the gate, watching the dolphins, still with no attention from trainers.
We were able to get to the rail of her tank and stand within a few feet of her, making eye contact with her. We said hello in an excited, friendly pitch. At one point Lolita nodded her head up and down. Of course I cannot tell you she was reacting to us or what she was thinking or feeling. Only that she nodded and we had eye contact.Within 5 minutes of the show ending, security kicks everyone out.
So she does 2 shows a day, 20 minutes each. You can see her 10 minutes before and 5 after. That is a total time of 1 hour and 10 minutes public view time per day. At all other time she is behind closed doors, literally. The stadium is secured by metal garage doors. There is no way in. This raises so many questions of what is going on behind closed doors. Do they open the gates to give her access to the back tank behind the trainer platform? Or is she confined to the front of the tank, making her living space even smaller? Is she getting attention, stimulation and exercise? Enough food? Medical care? It all happens privately with no ability for the public to know.
I left the facility very depressed. The facility is a relic to the 1950's. The crowds are small. Many of my photos show empty bleachers. I watched 2 bottlenose dolphins (in a tank larger than Lolita's) pushing beach balls around. I got bored watching them after 5 minutes. I had the freedom to walk away. I can only imagine their plight.
It was all an experience I am grateful to have seen firsthand. I am hopeful that this firsthand experience with Lolita and her conditions enables me to enrolling more people in the cause to return her home. I took a lot of sadness out of there with me that will remain with me for a very, very long time.
Getting Lolita home is so important for her and us. Though we can never fully give back what others have taken from her, we need to give her what we can. After witnessing this, leaving her there is inhumane and wrong. It is terrible for her and it speaks poorly on us if we allow this to continue.
You can follow Jeff on twitter