Monday, April 14, 2014

California Proposed Bill: An end to cetacean circuses?

There's been quite the buzz around the cetacean scene lately; OSHA denying Sea World's appeal for trainers to return to water work, the International Court of Justice declaring that Japan's “scientific whaling” is no longer authorized in the Southern Ocean, and legislation in California is seeking to ban the captivity of orcas for entertainment purposes.

This bill(AB2140), which was proposed by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, is aimed at ending the use of orcas for entertainment, specifically at the Sea World park in San Diego and, if passed, Sea World's famous killer whale shows would come to an end. Although voting has been postponed until 2015 as the committees involved take a step back to learn more, the “educational” whale circuses could very well be tanked(pun intended). In California at least.

Sea World lobbyist, Scott Wetch, implied that if the bill were to be enacted, the whales would be moved to different locations outside of California, not released into sea pens. Wetch seems to be under the impression that release into sea pens would mean “certain death” for the whales. I wonder what he thinks of the multiple death of orcas that have lived at Sea World parks? Perhaps he's forgotten that concrete tanks aren't the natural environment of whales and dolphins nor would release into a sea pen come without an in depth rehabilitation plan. Indeed, not every orca in San Diego is eligible for complete release, but the alternative is release into a netted off cove or bay. The public could still visit them, but they would be in their natural environment and not be coerced into doing circus tricks. But as Sea World is constantly reminding us, their facilities are state of the art; although that cannot be denied, one must ponder whether a cage that is gilded is any less of a cage?

In a release from his office, Bloom stated, “There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes. These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives. It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement.” The Orca Welfare and Safety Act would eliminate performance-based entertainment and the captive breeding of the whales with the end goal being killer whale captivity being phased out of California entirely.

The legislation comes in the wake of the release of Blackfish, the controversial documentary depicting the events that lead to the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in February of 2010. Since the documentary has been released, the public has grown more and more aware of the sheer intelligence of cetaceans and exactly how self aware they are. Blackfish remained disciplined in it's exposure of Sea World, but the events depicted in the documentary were enough to spur public interest and many have sought out answers to their questions on their own, pulling the dark history of Sea World even further into the light. Despite desperate claims from the marine park that captivity is necessary for cetacean conservation, it would seem that people are finally coming to the realization that the time for orcas and other cetaceans to be used for entertainment should be left in the past.

In my perfect scenario, the passing of this ban would jump start Sea World into being what they claim to be: an educational powerhouse at the forefront of marine conservation, minus the corruption and exploitation of sentient beings. If they want to return to being the poster child for family joy and education, perhaps they should start listening to the indignant cries of the public before they sink even further into the pit of being Public Enemy #1. In case they haven't dug the cotton out of their ears yet, I suppose I could spell it out:

-There is nothing educational about cetaceans beaching themselves on slide outs or doing tail walks like a synchronized swim team.

-It is incredibly behind the times and in denial of modern research to claim that a tank is an enriching environment for a whale or dolphin.

-The wool can no longer be pulled over anyone's eyes. The truth has come out. The public is waking up.

And I, for one, hope they never fall back asleep.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Captive Athletes: the link between the Olympics and the captive cetacean industry

          There is something special about watching the world come together to watch a live sports event. For a brief moment, all the happenings of the world become dim background noise as the audiences of each nation hold their breath, waiting to see who will earn one of the coveted medals. Athletes from all over the world compete against the best of the best until a few come out on top, crowning them victor in their sport of choice.

I think it's safe to assume you all know I'm referring to the Olympics.

Almost everyone enjoys the Olympics. It's exhilarating to watch top athletes try their hearts out to try to win a gold medal. We cringe at their mishaps, grieve when it costs them their winning chance, rejoice when they reach their goals, and become inspired when we see an underdog rise to the top. But what happens when the Games are over? We turn off our televisions and return to the “real world”, whether that be work or school or other daily activities. The athletes board a plane and go home to their families, with or without a medal, and continue to train for their next event.

But what if some of them didn't get to go home? What if they were left somewhere unfamiliar, isolated, and far away from their homeland? And what if that's where they were expected to spend the rest of their lives?
For two orcas, who were recently taken from the wild along with five others, this is looking to be a definite possibility. The Sochi Winter Olympics, hosted by Russia, is planning a grand display of these two orcas for their opening ceremony. In order to get to the planned display, they will have to fly across seven times zones, only to end up in a tank where they will spend the rest of their lives, away from their families and their home, suffering the same ill effects other captive cetaceans experience. While we humans enjoy rooting for our athletes, these two creatures, athletes in their own right, will be nothing more than entertainment, another means for monetary gain with not a second thought given to their welfare. No matter how well they perform, after the scores are given and the medals are handed out and the victors are named, they don't get to go home. The thought of that puts quite the damper on the Olympic celebrations.

To further my disgust, it's also been stated that they intend for a Black Sea Bottlenose dolphin(an endangered species, mind you) to take part in the Olympic torch relay. The intention is for a trainer to hold onto the fin of this dolphin with one hand while carrying the torch in the other. This is scheduled to happen in a small pool at the Black Sea resort on February 4th, three days before the opening ceremony. The degrading aspect of this aside, I can't help feeling like this is an accident waiting to happen. After all, fire isn't exactly on the list of things aquatic animals tend to encounter.

When I first heard about these plans, I wasn't sure what to feel, other than dumbfounded. How is it possible for humans, the supposed superior species, to continue to use these self aware and intelligent creatures for profit, despite all of the science and research that says captivity is detrimental to their well being? But then I remembered; sometimes greed takes the front seat instead of compassion.

Those in charge of the opening ceremony probably wish we would all ignore this little fiasco and look the other way. But, in all honesty, the only thing I'm looking away from is my TV screen. I'm not asking you to not watch the opening ceremony or to even boycott the Olympics. All I'm asking is that when you're watching the skiers take those daring leaps or the figure skaters displaying their fine tuned skill and grace, you remember the athletes that don't get to go home and don't win any medals. I know someone out there is likely wondering what the big deal is. It's just a few animals, why worry about them when there's the Olympics to focus on? To them I say:

If I don't worry about them, who will?

For those interested in contacting the International Olympic Committees with your concerns:

President Thomas Bach
Chateau de Vidy
Case postale 356
1001 Lausanne

Phone: +41 21 621 61 11
Fax: +41 21 621 62 16

Please sign the petition!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tilikum: 30 years in captivity

Our message is simple: keeping a 12,000+ pound Orca whale in a pool, (that is less than a fraction of 1% of his natural habitat,) is simply illogical.
“Extracting” an animal from his natural environment, where he would normally swim vast distances, dive to extreme depths and spend his entire life with his close knit family pod is simply unethical.
To use a living, breathing, self-aware and extremely intelligent sentient being as a sperm bank in a forced captive breeding program, and as a part-time splash-machine for the enjoyment of the paying public is, considered by many, simply appalling.
To claim that this is ocean conservation is simply inaccurate and grossly misleading.
This Orca’s name is Tilikum and he has been living in a cement pool since he was taken from his mother’s side in the ocean at the young age of approximately 2 years old. He was captured in November of 1982.
Unlike other cetaceans living in captivity, Tilikum’s interaction with the SeaWorld’s trainers and with the other whales kept there is very limited because of his proneness to aggression.
SeaWorld, however, despite Tilikum’s obvious aggression, has thus far refused to humanely release him to a seapen for rehab, and instead continues to use him as their primary stud in their “superior breeding program”, not knowing whether his aggression will be passed on to his many offspring. (56% of SeaWorld’s Orca whales carry Tilikum’s genes.)
We believe that 30 years of forced breeding, splashing audiences, and performing for SeaWorld’s profit is enough.
Our goal is quite simple: we want to gather 1,000,000 signatures to free Tilikum.
If you agree that this situation is illogical and simply unethical, please add your name to this petition and help us reach our goal by sharing it with your friends.
By signing this petition, you’ll be sending a clear, responsible message to the leadership at SeaWorld and the Blackstone Group (the owner of SeaWorld)- a message that cries out for the release of Tilikum to a seapen for rehab.
It’s time to end the archaic use of these beautiful cetaceans for entertainment and profit. It’s time to free Tilikum!
We appreciate your voice as you help us take a stand for the voiceless.
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Friday, October 4, 2013

Behind Blackfish: An exclusive interview with Gabriela Cowperthwaite

- What surprised you the most about the public reaction to Blackfish?
I always suspected that people were like me, that they didn't know the truth about SeaWorld and that we all patronized that place blindly. This turned out to be true. People were shocked by what they learned. And it's life affirming to know that if people are armed with the truth, they're capable of making the right decisions.

- What inspired you to create this documentary?
I went in with a question. I heard about the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau and wondered how a top trainer could have been killed by a killer whaleat SeaWorld. I didn't understand why a highly intelligent animal would have made the decision to hurt a trainer who was actively feeding him. I then read "Killer in the Pool" in Outside Magazine by Tim Zimmermann. Tim's comprehensive story, especially the information about the early orca captures, was eye-opening to me. I realized that this was a story that needed to be told.

- Blackfish is absolutely chock-full of information on the issue of Orca captivity. Tell us a bit about what the daily behind-the-scenes work on the filmed looked like.
My producer Manny Oteyza and I were constantly looking for footage. We never stopped researching. I tried to contact every single person, including SeaWorld, including trainers who had been in accidents, family members of people who had been killed, scientists, researchers, people who may've captured killer whales back in the day, and more. The door was closed in my face frequently and people backed out of interviews. But before strapping on a camera, we had to look under every rock because with a documentary like Blackfish, you're heading into some controversial territory. You had better tell this story comprehensively and truthfully otherwise why take the risk?

- It seems to be clear that one of the ways to put an end to this archaic and cruel industry is for people to not buy the ticket. Do you see any evidence that people are starting to get it?
I hear that SeaWorld's revenues have decreased 6% this year and that they have engaged in an unprecedented promotional campaign. I can only hope that people are starting to think twice about where to spend their next vacation.

- We know that profit is driving this industry, but do you believe that with films like Blackfish, conscience is going to kick in and help put an end to this industry?
I don't know. I do believe conscience is kicking in and that people are realizing that keeping killer whales in captivity is wrong. I also know that a 2 billion dollar a year industry will die fighting. I can only hope that with all those financial resources, they will be instrumental in evolving us out of the circus and into sea sanctuaries and rehab/release centers. It's clear that this is where we’re headed. But it will happen a lot faster if SeaWorld realizes it.

- What is the single most important message that you want people to take away from this film?
We need to bring an end to animals for entertainment. It is sooo last century.

- If you could be in a room with the SeaWorld and/or other marine park executives what would you say to them?
Unfortunately I'm not sure we can appeal to their ethical senses at this point. This doesn't mean they're bad people. It just means that they've become so good at telling themselves stories to justify what they do, it's impossible for them to even imagine there could be a better way.

I think would talk to them about the benefits of creating sea sanctuaries for killer whales and other marine mammals. These could be profit making endeavors - people would be seeing a killer whale being a killer whale, which is vastly more interesting than watching a killer whale do goofy tricks over and over again.
- If you were addressing a class of high school students, what would your main points be?
I would tell them they have a chance to do it differently.

- If you could put up 5 billboards, around Orlando, FL, what would each one say?
This is a tricky one. I read many one-liners about the plight of orcas in captivity when I was first beginning the film. They were designed to get your attention. And that's exactly why they didn't work on me. I wanted information and for me, attention-grabbing techniques tend to be all foam, no beer. And well.. I'm horrible at one-liners.
- What is your hope for the film?
I hope this film continues to do good work. I hope the film is durable enough to be passed onto future generations. I hope it serves as a reminder to always look behind the curtain.

- Do you have any plans for future projects on the plight of captive cetaceans?
The future is a question mark! 

Thank you, Gabriela, for taking the time to talk to us and answer our questions. We appreciate it! 

To learn more, visit the Blackfish website.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

this album saves dolphins: interview with Austin Tofte

Inspired by the enigmatic beauty of wild dolphins and by the amazing work of Jacques Cousteau, Austin Tofte- singer, songwriter and sole creator of the band Swimming With Dolphins  -doesn't want his new album Catharsis to be just "another dude making music". Austin wants to use this new album to help save the creatures that inspire his songs. 

"There are only a few days left in this campaign." Austin updated on his fundraiser.  "For each & every contribution that comes in, I will be passing $1 of it forward to this wonderful organization: 
The money will go to support an upcoming short film they are making called "Voiceless", which will aim to raise awareness of the harms of Dolphins in captivity. 
I've added a $5 perk as well. This includes a hand written "thank you" from me, as well as a Blue Freedom bracelet - (these items will be included in every contribution $5 or higher).
I really want Catharsis to mean something more than just another Swimming With Dolphins album. Now is our chance to do that."

We were very stoked to get a chance to ask Austin a few questions about Catharsis, and about his oceanic inspiration.
from left: Austin Tofte and Adam Young
 of Owl City at a performance 

Blue Freedom: Your music and band name is obviously dolphin-oriented, what is it that inspired you about dolphins in particular?

Austin Tofte: Truly, it's more than Dolphins. I (and the world in my opinion) owe so much thanks to Jacques Cousteau and everything he did. There are shots in Odyssey, with him and the crew swimming out in the wild with dolphins (and all sorts of aquatic creatures they encountered for that matter) treating them as such magnificent creatures. Just watching someone who embraces the beauty of a moment shared with an animal in the wild like that - it's really amazing... I mean, come on, who doesn't want to swim with dolphins in the wild?
So, really the name derives from the imaginary experiences I've had while admiring Cousteau's work. It's like sounds to fit that feeling, I guess.

Blue Freedom: What inspired you to start a new album?

Austin Tofte:  I think a hunger for creativity in my life was really what inspired me to start a new album. Music is something that I'll never be able to live without, especially the creative side of it. A number of things in my life changed all at once and suddenly the opportunity presented itself to make another album, so I jumped on it.

Blue Freedom: Producing an album that also helps protect the animals that inspire your music is brilliant. What prompted you to connect your project to a cause?

Austin Tofte: Well, thank you, although, it just seemed logical to me. I'm a pretty big believer in the "pay it forward" concept. When you're given something, it's awesome, but after awhile it looses it's luster from just clinging to it & not sharing the joy of it with anyone else. I am lucky enough to have people that want to listen to the music I make, A way to pay forward & share what has been so generously given to me, is to contribute to a greater need in my opinion, which happens to be dolphins. 

Blue Freedom: What is your hope for the album?

Austin Tofte: My hope for this album is two-fold. On a personal level, Catharsis is a cleansing & redemptive effort. I feel like I missed the mark a bit with Water Colours and want to get my thoughts & feelings out, in song form, the most genuine way. On the other side, I ultimately want this project to mean something more to the world than just another dude making music. So, it's up to me to do something about that. 

"Until recently, I've always thought of Swimming With Dolphins as nothing more than just some songs I make when I have time, that a handful of overly-kind people think sound cool... or something like that, but as you all have proven to me with this campaign, that's not the case. Clearly, I have a "voice" and I was put on this earth to share my music with whoever wants to listen. In fact, we all have a "voice" or something we are called to do or make that speaks to others in an inspiring way and reflects who we are as individuals.

I'm so thankful for all of the generosity & attention given to this campaign for the making of Catharsis - I cannot wait to finish this album. However, I would really like to harness the rare opportunity of this moment in the remaining days of the campaign, and use my "voice" to support something that is much more important to this world than my music. That being the creature that greatly inspired the title of this project: Dolphins."

There are only a few days left- help make this album a reality:


Give here:

Follow the project on Facebook:
And Twitter:

#SWDCatharsis #GenerationBF

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Eyes open: a teenager’s thoughts on the cove and Japan Dolphins Day

In 2009, my eyes were already open to many of the existing issues and dangers stacked up against many species of cetaceans. I was digging into whaling issues, and studying how I could help be a force in ending the illegal slaughter of the great whales in the southern hemisphere-

But what I didn’t know was that one of the largest slaughters of marine mammals was taking place annually in a secret cove off Japan’s breath-taking coast- right under the world’s nose. I was clueless when it came to the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. Until I saw a film that would take my world and completely flip it on it’s head.

And that film was The Cove.

I could go on about this for ages, but I’ll try to keep it brief- The Cove follows dolphin trainer from the hit series ‘Flipper’ -turned dolphin advocate Ric O’Barry.

Through this film, my eyes were opened to the fact that captivity is not only archaic, unethical and simply illogical- but that it is also at the very roots of a horrific dolphin massacre.

Every year, starting September 1st, dolphins and porpoises are driven into a hidden cove off the coast of Taiji, where the most “attractive” are selected for shows and amusement parks.

After this, the remaining dolphins are sealed into the cove and left over night.

In the morning, the fishermen return to the cove with boats and spears to slaughter and collect the dolphins to bring to the butcher house. Where their highly-toxic mercury-laden meat will be carved, packaged and sold as food to the Japanese people- most of which will be intentionally mislabeled as “healthy” whale meat from the southern hemisphere.

An estimated 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered and butchered each year.

“Since The Cove came out, the fishermen have altered their killing methods. The fishermen pull dolphins underneath an array of plastic tarps (set up to prevent us from filming the slaughter). There, the fishermen push a sharp metal spike into the dolphins' necks just behind the blowholes, which is supposed to sever the spinal cord and produce an instant "humane" death. In fact, we have film footage from hidden cameras that show the dolphins thrashing for minutes on end in agony. The fishermen even push wooden corks into the wounds to prevent spilling blood into the Cove, again to prevent us from filming blood-red waters”
Seeing this film- seeing this slaughter unfold before my eyes changed me. I was a fourteen year old, scared for life- and I was going to do everything I possibly could to help end this.

And here I am today. Four years later, and still fighting.

Ric O’Barry is and has always been, a massive inspiration to me. If ever I find myself despairing over how not enough has changed, and how seemingly impossible a task stopping this slaughter seems to be at times, I just pop The Cove into my DVD player or laptop, and watch that epic, harrowing scene, when Ric crashes an IWC (international whaling commission) wielding a TV screen playing the dolphin massacre on repeat. It always gives me more than enough inspiration and awe to propel myself onward with- realizing that every phone call to the embassy, every class I speak with, every student I email- it adds to the massive push to end this unethical practice.

It won’t be just one of us who brings an end to this- it will be all of us or it won’t end at all.

The slaughter at the cove can and will continue unless we- as in, all of us- every last one of us -decide that it’s not going to happen.
We have been reporting from Taiji regularly since 2003, and the most shocking aspect of the dolphin drive hunt is the active role that some dolphinariums play in sustaining the hunt. Dolphinariums are always looking for ways to obtain more dolphins. Many times, the fishermen of Taiji will drive a large school of bottlenose dolphins into the killing cove, and dolphin trainers and marine mammal veterinarians flock to the scene to seek out the best-looking dolphins for their display facilities. By doing business with the dolphin killers, they are helping to maintain the dolphin drive hunts. A live dolphin sold to a dolphinarium brings in a much higher profit than does a dead dolphin sold as meat, which brings in about $600. In Taiji, live bottlenose dolphins have been sold for as much as $300,000 each. The dolphin massacres in Japan will likely continue for as long as members of the international dolphin display industry reward the fishermen with thousands of dollars for animals that are deemed suitable for commercial exploitation in captivity. Dolphinariums that work together with the Japanese dolphin killers are a major reason that the dolphin massacres are still going on.

(from Save Japan Dolphins website)
If every one of us make the conscious decision not to buy the ticket to a marine park, to help spread the word about the cove and about the toxicity of dolphin meat? This slaughter will end. It will be inevitable.

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to talk with Ric O’Barry on several occasions, and I have no doubt that this amazing project to educate the public and save these dolphins will work if we all pull together and speak out as one voice.

If you haven’t already, please visit his campaign site: and learn more about what you can do to help end this.

You are a vital piece to this puzzle- we can’t stop this tragic slaughter without you.

I’m happy to be an example to how this is possible- I’m just one teenager, typing up a storm and doing my best to help get the word out among students- and I’ve literally had people email me and tell me that they’ve returned their season passes to SeaWorld, or other marine parks because of what they have learned at Blue Freedom.

In fact, most of our team is made up of teens and young adults- each with passion and talent, and each with a voice to lend to this cause.

One voice can and will make a huge difference.

Your voice can make a huge difference.

Will you use yours?

Join: Japan Dolphins Day


Friday, August 23, 2013

Lolita update: Guest-post by Howard Garrett, co-founder, Orca Network

By Howard Garrett, co-founder, Orca Network

Lolita, first called Tokitae, is a female orca in her mid to late 40s who was born somewhere in the range of her extended family, the Southern Resident orcas, but was captured and ripped from her family as a youngster in 1970  ̶43 years ago. She probably still remembers her family, so regardless of her long confinement she's still a member of this clan of orcas that have been seen and documented in the Salish Sea for months of each year since field studies began in 1973. For over four decades she has been kept in a 35' x 80' x 20' deep concrete bowl to attract spectators to a theme park in Miami. Since 1995 we have conducted a public awareness campaign to present the case for her return home.

The campaign for Lolita's release and retirement was based on information learned by Ken Balcomb, founder and chief scientist of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, while researching how to release Keiko in 1993-4. In May of 1993 Ken was asked by the producers of Free Willy to help design a plan to give Keiko, captured off Iceland in 1979, a better life. He turned his research skills to devising the best and safest possible program to eventually allow Keiko to swim in his natal habitat once again. In the summer of 1993 Ken compiled a list of every documented release of any whale or dolphin, and a bibliography of every conceivable resource to help guide the endeavor. Though Ken was initially given the job by Reino Aventura in Mexico City, and had the full backing of Craig McCaw, the wealthy benefactor who eventually financed Keiko's rehabilitation and release, he was relieved of his involvement in the project in early 1994.
Undaunted, Ken had known all along that Lolita/Tokitae was a far better candidate for return to her native habitat. After all, we were familiar with every individual in her family and saw them for many months every year. So Ken started working on Lolita's retirement plan, and on March 9, 1995, WA Governor Mike Lowry, Sec. of State Ralph Munro and Ken held a media event in Seattle to announce the start of the Lolita Come Home campaign. The first problem for the campaign was that there wasn't actually any campaign, or even a phone number to call if anyone wanted to help.
Lolita listening to her family pod's calls
Thus was born the non-profit Tokitae Foundation in April, 1995, dedicated to raising public awareness about the feasibility of safely returning our dear Lolita back to her home and family. Our campaign benefited from some early media exposure, like the 1995 Seattle Times magazine cover story on our proposal for Lolita, followed by a one-hour special on KOMO-TV in Seattle called "Lolita - Spirit in the Water" and the NBC Dateline segment in which a tape of Lolita's family was played to her, but we ran into a fortress wall of denial from the owners of the Seaquarium in Miami.
In January 1996 Keiko was moved to his custom-made tank in Oregon where his health vastly improved. Most media attention went to him, mainly covering the debates raging about the advisability of his potential release. Still, our hopes rested on Keiko's big shoulders for his successful release to show the world that it could be done.
From September 1997 to November 1999 I lived in Miami to make the case for Lolita's return in demonstrations and various media articles and generally stir up awareness of her retirement plan, but after all was said and done the Seaquarium was still making about $1 million a year off Lolita's circus routines and still refused to consider our proposal. Back on Whidbey Island, board member and soon-to-be spouse Susan Berta invigorated the Lolita campaign with her passionate dedication, including organizing annual Penn Cove Capture Commemoration events each August 8, which have continued ever since.
For the next several years we were challenged to come up with new ways to publicize Lolita's predicament and our retirement plan. We cheered when Keiko was transported some 6,000 miles to Iceland in 1998, where he gained strength and often caught his own fish. His actual progress was encouraging, but his handlers' media messages were scant and unclear at best, so the public remained confused and all sides of the debate were left with only their original opinions. When Keiko swam across the Atlantic in August of 2002 he fed himself just fine and arrived in Norway tired but healthy, but critics put up such a stink about the project that the entire effort was widely considered a failure. When Keiko died in Norway in December, 2003, our great hope for demonstrating how a long-term captive could one day swim free became redefined as a great farce. The new film "Keiko-The Untold Story" helps to set the record straight about Keiko's real success story.
The only bright spots over the next few years  were a series of demonstrations in Miami re-started by Shelby Proie, who was a catalyst for Miami anti-captivity activists while lighting up the media and social networks with her determined focus on rescuing Lolita.
Back in the Pacific NW, we had changed our organization's name to Orca Network in 2001 and were focused on connecting people with whales to increase awareness of the amazing orcas, gray whales, humpbacks and minke whales in the Salish Sea. We also devoted ourselves to advocating for Chinook salmon restoration to help meet the nutritional needs of the Southern Residents, who had suffered a 20% drop in population by 2001 and were declared Endangered under the ESA in 2005.
At that time there didn't seem to be much new to say about Lolita, and very little opportunity to say it anyway, until that pivotal, fateful 24th of February, 2010, when a distressed captive male orca named Tilikum finally had enough of it and brought an end to the life of his closest human companion, SeaWorld head trainer Dawn Brancheau. The media response to that traumatic event was immediate, intense, and sustained, and has only ramped up since that day. To our surprise, virtually every report has included some mention of the essential insight that orcas should never be held captive in the first place.
Within days four former SeaWorld orca trainers stepped forward, each one willing and able to present the case against orca captivity in all sorts of media, including brilliant use of social media. Within months OSHA charged SeaWorld with endangering their employees, elevating the issue to a federal case and bringing out documents and videos never before seen outside SeaWorld. By mid-2010, intrigued by Tilikum's violent behavior, writer Tim Zimmermann published a feature-length expose of the entire history of orca captivity in Outside magazine. Soon best-selling author David Kirby noticed the friction between reality and corporate myth-making brought out by the tragedy and SeaWorld's obstinate denials of culpability, and saw the ingredients for his next book, Death at SeaWorld, now a best-seller.
About that time documentary filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite wondered why a seemingly docile captive orca would suddenly thrash and dismember his trainer. She turned to Tim Zimmermann and drew from his research and counsel to frame her blockbuster film, Blackfish, now storming across the country and the world conveying the clear message that captivity severely stresses and kills orcas. Lolita isn't mentioned in Blackfish, but the film has the power to change how people view captive orca shows everywhere.
In late 2010 Orca Network was contacted by some attorneys associated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Entire teams of top-notch attorneys were starting to churn out intel and strategies to challenge the captive orca industry's legal right to exploit these magnificent, intelligent, highly social, wide-ranging mammals for entertainment revenues. Within months three important legal initiatives were launched.
First was a 2011 suit against SeaWorld that named five captive orcas as Plaintiffs. Based on the 13th Amendment against slavery, the suit claimed that the captured orcas were deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness:
Plaintiffs were forcibly taken from their families and natural habitats, are held captive at SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld Orlando, denied everything that is natural to them, subjected to artificial insemination or sperm collection to breed performers for Defendants' shows, and forced to perform, all for Defendants' profit. As such, Plaintiffs are held in slavery and involuntary servitude.
Named in the suit as "Next Friends" of the Plaintiffs were dolphin activist Ric O'Barry, former SeaWorld trainers Samantha Berg and Carol Ray, and me. The suit was ultimately dismissed, as expected, but not before generating widespread public understanding that for orcas, captivity is indeed equivalent to slavery.

Next was an ingenious plan based on the discovery that the Seaquarium is quietly granted a permit to operate their whale shows each year by APHIS (the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) under the Dept. of Agriculture. The first step was to submit highly qualified expert affidavits to APHIS to establish that certain violations of the Animal Welfare Act by the Seaqarium - lack of space, the hot midday Miami sun, and utter loneliness - caused Lolita to suffer. Then Lolita's Lawyers filed an official request to APHIS to deny the permit on those grounds. Then, when the permit was routinely granted as expected, we sued the USDA for failure to uphold those provisions of the AWA by granting the permit. That suit is now pending and will be heard later this year in Miami federal district court. If it succeeds, and the letter of the law seems likely to uphold the suit, the permit may be revoked, and the Seaquarium will no longer be allowed to hold Lolita in that tank.

The third legal implement aimed at the Seaquarium's fortress wall resulted from her attorneys' discovery that the language in the ESA listing for the Southern Resident orcas  ̶Lolita's family  ̶includes a paragraph that specifically:

"does not include killer whales from J, K, or L pod placed in captivity prior to listing, nor does it include their captive born progeny."
That case is also still pending as a procedural matter within the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which has until January, 2014 to arrive at a determination. Recent precedents concerning endangered chimpanzees seem to indicate that NOAA will rule in our favor. In June, the United States Fish and Wildlife Services responded to a petition by animal protection groups by issuing a draft rule that would classify all chimpanzees as endangered. If the new rule is enacted, it would make it extremely difficult to use chimpanzees for entertainment or experimentation. The relevance of this ruling for a member of an endangered orca population held in captivity for entertainment is obvious. If the petition for Lolita succeeds, it will probably be followed by further legal action to mandate that Lolita should therefore be allowed to return to her home waters and be given the ability to communicate with her family.
Public perceptions and emotions about holding orcas in captivity are shifting. The orca entertainment industry is supported entirely by consumers spending discretionary income that can easily be spent elsewhere. It won't take much of an emotional and perceptual shift to change the experience from wholesome fun to animal abuse. Orcas are very expensive to maintain in captivity, and probably cost even more to advertise, so if only a few percent of those consumers don't buy a ticket the profit margin from the entire enterprise may dry up, and the economics of the industry could turn a 180 in a very short time.
As the consuming public begins to disapprove of orca captivity, the two cases now pending are applying legal leverage to pry Lolita out of the tank and back to her familiar waters. Prospects have never been better for the tide to finally turn and wash Lolita home at last. Every day that she survives in the tank is another unlikely miracle, given the statistics of survival in captivity, and yet she appears to be in relatively good health and contented spirits. Even compared with most orcas she seems exceptionally strong. From a human perspective her patience and good nature are difficult to comprehend, but if we can get her home, her family will probably understand her better.

Learn more about Lolita, and how you can help HERE
Read the proposal to retire Lolita to her native waters in the Pacific Northwest HERE
Sign the petition for Lolita HERE
Contact APHIS to ask them to revoke their permit to the Seaquarium to hold Lolita in an unlawful tank:

Contact Betty Goldentyer, D.V.M.
Eastern Regional Director
USDA - APHIS Animal Care
920 Main Campus Drive-Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27606
(919)855-7100 [Office]

We would like to give a big thank you to Howard for blogging with us, and for all the great information about Lolita and what we can do to help her. We applaud the Orca Network for their outstanding work to help cetaceans worldwide.