PETA Court Case Uncovers Marine Mammal’s Extreme Stress and Injuries
Although the Miami Seaquarium fought hard to keep all records regarding the health and behavior of lone orca Lolita from the public, a judge recently ruled that some documents can no longer be sealed, exposing evidence that the marine mammal has suffered for decades as a result of chronic deprivation, torment from incompatible tankmates, and health issues ranging from frequent infections to stress-induced abnormal behavior. The documents came to light in a lawsuit against the facility—brought by a coalition of animal-protection groups, including PETA—contending that the woeful conditions of Lolita’s imprisonment violate the Endangered Species Act.
“The Miami Seaquarium has hidden evidence of the physical and mental suffering that Lolita has endured for decades,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA is doing all that it can to end her suffering and get her to a seaside sanctuary, where she could finally feel ocean currents, swim freely, and hear wild orcas’ calls.”
For 46 years, Lolita has lived in the smallest orca tank in North America, where she has been unable to travel more than a few yards in a straight line—even though orcas swim up to 100 miles a day in nature. The facility’s records show that she is sometimes gated overnight in a tank in which the already-shallow water level is often dropped, further restricting her movement. Records also show that she shares the tiny tank with incompatible dolphins, who routinely scrape her skin with their teeth—abuse that she endured at least 52 times in 2015—and that she has repeatedly exhibited abnormal behavior related to stress, such as rubbing her body against tank walls, as documented several hundred times by trainers.
According to the records, Lolita has suffered from an inflammatory eye condition since the 1980s that requires daily eye drops and has been documented performing with one or both eyes closed during many shows. In addition, because her teeth are permanently damaged—likely from stress-induced gnawing on tank gates and walls—employees have painfully drilled into them more than a dozen times to stave off infection. In total, records show that there was not a single day in 2015 in which Lolita did not receive at least one medication for a health condition directly caused by her captivity.