Everyone's heard of Free Willy, but what about "Free Lolita"?
A killer whale that has been held in a tiny pool for over 46 years is the property of an investment firm in London, according to activists who have stepped up a campaign for her release.
Lolita, who was captured in 1970 off the North West coast, has lived days and nights in a tank measuring around 50 foot wide and 20 foot deep – around the same size as a hotel swimming pool. She is thought to be the whale that has been held the longest in captivity.
Her life started off with trauma. According to One Green Planet, the men who herded up the pod of orca whales in 1970 used nets, ropes and explosives to separate the adults from the babies. During the capture, five whales were killed.
Lolita now lives in Miami Seaquarium in Florida, owned by Arle Capital, an investment company based near the Pall Mall in central London.
“We assert that the conditions of Lolita’s captivity violates America’s Endangered Species Act prohibiting harm or harassment of an endangered animal,” said Howard Garrett, of Orca Network, the US-based organisation that is leading a lawsuit to move Lolita to a marine refuge, as reported by The Sunday Times.
Animal rights protesters have already gathered outside the offices of Arle Capital, which could prove embarrassing for its managing partner John Arney and his colleagues, who control around £2 billion worth of assets.
The company acquired Lolita when it bought Spanish entertainment company Parques Reunidos, which in turn owns Palace Entertainment, the firm behind Seaquarium.
According to Seaquarium’s website, “conservation and education go hand in hand”.
The Florida attraction is estimated to make annual profits of around £750,000. Lolita performs seven days a week for visitors.
Julie Foster, a spokeswoman for Arle, said vets make sure Lolita is healthy and the pool fits legal requirements.
“It would be a reckless and cruel experiment [to take her out of the tank] which would put her through a traumatic transport process and jeopardise her life,” she said. “Each year more than 85,000 schoolchildren and 600,000 other guests visit Miami Seaquarium to see and learn about Lolita.
“We believe that this remarkable, educational experience creates awareness and appreciation for orcas and marine life in general.”
The fight to free Lolita has been going on for years, involving groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which sued Seaquarium last year. The movement gained momentum after the release of documentary “Blackfish” which exposed the cruel treatment of the whales.
Orca whales are very sociable and swim in tight-knit pods. Her former companion whale, Hugo, died in the same tank 34 years ago, after continually bashing his head against the side of the tank.
Opponents of the release plan point to other whales who were set free and died as a result. The whale Keiko was released near Iceland in 2002 but died after it was rejected by other orcas.