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Lolita’s Story Proves That Protesting Corporations Can Change Lives

Some good news out of Florida...

2015 May 9 Protestors line up outside the Seaquarium in the hot afternoon sun supporting Lolita the Whale who lives at the Seaquarium. The size of Lolita's tank (which is below national standards), her lack of protection from the hot sun and her total isolation from other orcas led the Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, Orca Network and private citizens to file a lawsuit against the USDA as per Miami New Times

Sometimes it can feel like boycotting a big corporation is like shouting into the wind. Does it matter if I buy that transphobic, antisemitic video game? (Yes, it does.) Lolita the orca is proof that boycotts can work. Lolita, also known as Tokitae, has been in captivity for over 50 years. Finally, the Miami Seaquarium announced they are arranging for her release back into the wild.

The move comes after years of protests by people concerned about her welfare. After the 2013 documentary Blackfish, about how terrible life in captivity is for orcas, people have been actively boycotting any marine park with an orca. The years of letter-writing campaigns, protests, and declining park attendance let the Seaquarium’s owners know people weren’t putting up with the cruel treatment anymore. At 57 years old, Lolita will go back to her home waters in the Pacific Northwest.

Lolita’s Journey

Like many other orcas in captivity, they captured Lolita during massive roundups in the wild. Many orcas did not survive the roundups or transportation to marine parks. Lolita, who was captured off the coast of Washington at only 4 years old, survived and is now the oldest orca in captivity. Many don’t realize wild female orcas live an average of 60 years, but some have lived for over 100 years. In captivity, however, they live for about half of that. Hugo, a former tank mate of Lolita’s, bashed his head into the side of the tank so many times it caused him to have an aneurysm. He was only 15 years old.

During her years in the relatively small tank, they have made her perform and live a mostly solitary life. Due to pressure from the public and the continuous efforts of the non-profit group Friends of Lolita/Toki, she will hopefully spend her remaining years in her home waters. Before they release her, Lolita will need to build up her muscles. Swimming in her tank daily is nothing compared to what wild orcas do in the ocean. Also, trainers will work with her to ensure her hunting skills are adequate for her release.

Going home

The biggest hurdle will be reuniting her with her pod. Orcas are extremely social animals, especially ones from the southern resident population where Lolita is from. Pods are made of families of orcas and are led by the eldest female. Pods hunt together, have their own languages, and help each other give birth. In 2018, the world watched another orca from the area carry her dead calf for over two weeks, showing how strong their family bonds are. Successful captive orca births and calf survival is low because orcas have such an intricate social structure, where older females help the new mothers care for the infant. In captivity, orcas are often kept alone or with others the aquarium is hoping will breed.

For Lolita to have a good chance at survival, she would need to be accepted back into her pod. The Orca Network reports Lolita still makes the same calls as her pod does, meaning she would be able to communicate with them. The orca researchers believe is Lolita’s mother, Ocean’s Sun, is still a part of L-pod. They estimate her age to be about 90 years old, showing that Lolita could have a long life ahead of her in the open ocean, with her family.

I know there is a lot of terrible news being thrown at us every day. It feels like boycotts don’t have the effect we want them to, but if enough people band together and keep at it, businesses have to listen or go under. Next time you are feeling like it’s all a waste, think of Lolita and how she is only going home because people made a fuss. Thinking of Lolita swimming with her pod is my new happy place.

(featured image: Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images)

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D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a freelance pop culture writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.