Since 1970, Lolita the lonely orca has been living in a miniature tank in the Miami Seaquarium. The tank has been lauded as the smallest in North America, and Lolita has lived there in solitude for the past three decades as her mental and physical health deteriorate.
Orcas facts show that these sea creatures don't live a life conducive to cages. In the wild, the giants swim up to 100 miles a day and dive to depths of 100 feet. They're also very social and deeply emotional. They thrive on interaction, live within pods, and mourn the loss of their family. Their mental health deteriorates in solitude and small spaces, but sadly, killer whale abuse is not as uncommon as you'd think. Secrets of Sea World have been leaked to show the terrible treatment of orcas under their care. Because of the public outrage, Sea World no longer breeds killer whales in captivity and ended their controversial whale shows.
In the wild, female orcas can live to be over 100 years old. Currently, the oldest orca in captivity is a 52-year-old whale from Sea World named Corky. She is one year older than Lolita, whose family members held in captivity never made it out of the '80s. Though animal rights activists have been fighting for Lolita's release since she was taken in 1970, they have been largely unsuccessful. Only recently has the USDA given Lolita a glimmer of hope.
Lolita belongs to the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, an extended family of orcas that live in three pods in the Salish Sea. In 1970, Lolita, her siblings, and her cousins were captured and sold to the Miami Seaquarium for a mere $6,000 - a small price to pay for an attraction that has drawn crowds for nearly five decades. At the time of her capture, Lolita was just four years old.
Orcas are extremely active in the wild and utilize the vastness of the ocean. The ferocious-but-cute animals can dive to depths of at least 328 feet if they're chasing prey and swim at speeds up to 28 mph. Wild Orcas travel up to 100 miles a day - a whole lot further than four body lengths. Sadly, four body lengths is the size of Lolita's tiny tank.
Sea World has always been a target of animal rights activists because of their tiny tanks, but the Miami Seaquarium actually has an even smaller tank for Lolita. You can see the side-by-side comparison, with Sea World (190 feet in length) on the left and Lolita's tank (80 feet in length) on the right. The Miami Seaquarium's enclosure is only 35 feet wide and 20 feet deep.
Orcas are deeply emotional, social creatures. In fact, research shows the creatures are more emotional than humans. MRI scans have shown that the section of an orca's brain that processes emotion is actually larger than it would be in a human's brain. These animals thrive on interaction, live in pods, and are deeply connected to their family. In fact, orcas mourn the loss of their young and carry them for miles. In one heartbreaking instance in 2015, a female killer whale was spotted pushing her dead calf for over 22 hours. These animals feel too much to be left alone.
Lolita has suffered through immense loss and now lives by herself. The lonely orca hasn't seen another of her kind since her partner, Hugo, passed away in 1980 from a brain aneurysm which may have been self-inflicted. Hugo repeatedly bashed his head into the wall of his tank and had a history of breaking windows in their enclosure. Once, he broke the glass so violently that he needed stitches on his rostrum (or nose). In short, Lolita's one true love killed himself after a life in captivity, and she hasn’t seen another orca since.
When Hugo died, two Pacific white-sided dolphins were placed in Lolita's tiny tank. Of course, they fight for dominance and prey on Lolita. The dolphins consistently "rake" Lolita's skin, meaning they scrape her with their teeth. This causes cuts that are sometimes so severe, Lolita has to take antibiotics to stave off infection. In 2015, the whale was raked over 52 times by the two dolphins.