Famine hits Puget orcas

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1994:

The orca population of Puget Sound has
grown from just 68 in 1976 to 94 now, reports
marine mammologist Ken Balcomb, of Friday
Harbor, Washington––but may fall fast, as many
whales in the heavily fished waters show signs of
starvation. Males are apparently suffering more
than females; several are missing, presumed dead.
The famine is a blow to the hopes of
groups trying to win the release of orcas captured
from those waters, including Lolita, 30, of the
Miami Seaquarium, currently considered the best
candidate. The Seaquarium tank is unsafe, Ric
O’Barry of the Dolphin Project alleges, and could
be ruptured by displacement from Lolita’s leaps.

By all accounts the facility is old, and will soon
need either major repairs or replacement.
“No point in saving Lolita without saving
Lolita’s habitat,” said O’Barry. “That’s the real
message.” But having rehabilitated and freed
numerous captive dolphins, O’Barry believes Lolita
could still be freed eventually––after appropriate
training. “We would build a sea pen for Lolita,” he
explained. “We would use the same system we
used in Brazil,” to free a dolphin named Flipper in
1993. “The gate would be opened only when we
knew she had a real chance to make it.”
Even if that time never came, said
O’Barry, “If Lolita remained in a huge lagoon sanc-
tuary she would be far better off than living in a
deadend concrete box in Miami. Not all captive
dolphins and whales can be released, but all can be
readapted to a more normal environment.”
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