Lolita & Willy
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1995:
MIAMI, Florida––Pressure on the embattled Miami
Seaquarium intensified on October 23 when Metro Dade building director
Carlos Bonzon gave management 45 days to come up with a plan to repair
Lolita the Killer Whale’s Stadium, the 25-year-old central attraction of the
facility. Plans for a $70 million expansion, including a new whale stadium,
are on hold due to a lawsuit filed by the nearby town of Key Biscayne.
“Lolita’s tank appears to be structurally sound,” the M i a m i
H e r a l d reported on November 25. However, “the grandstand has been
severely corroded by saltwater, and is held up by temporary beams.”
Bonzon’s order came a year after whale freedom advocate Ric
O’Barry introduced himself to the Dade County building inspection
department as “the former trainer of the Seaquarium’s original killer whale,
Hugo,” who died in 1980, and charged that the crumbling whale stadium
could be broken up by displacement as Lolita leaps.
The Seaquarium staff architect called O’Barry’s claim unfounded.
The Seaquarium is also under fire from Russ Rector of the
Dolphin Freedom Foundation, who claims an island in Lolita’s tank cuts
her space to less than the federal standard, and further charges that a sea
lion died and two dolphins were injured because the Seaquarium houses
incompatible animals together due to lack of space. Seaquarium official
Bruce Rubin counters that the sea lion, though hurt in fighting with another
sea lion, actually died from a bad reaction to anaesthesia, while neither
dolphin suffered serious harm.
More heat on the Seaquarium comes from the Coalition to Free
Lolita, headed by Ocean Drive magazine publisher Jerry Powers.
Working with the Center for Whale Research, of Friday Harbor,
Washington, near where Lolita was captured in August 1970, the coalition
seeks to return her to Puget Sound.
Matchmaker, matchmaker… Lolita has been mentioned as a potential companion for Keiko,
the star of the film Free Willy! and Free Willy II, who according to Free
Willy/Keiko Foundation and Earth Island Institute president David Phillips
is to be moved on January 7 from the Reino Aventura amusement park in
Mexico City, his home of the past decade, to an almost finished $7.3 million
tank at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. The new tank, the
size of a football field, is four times as big as Keiko’s Mexico City tank.
Officially the Oregon Coast Aquarium is only a rehabilitation site, where
Keiko will be prepared for eventual release into his native waters off
Iceland, but unofficially most observers believe Keiko will not be moved
again, since Iceland, a whaling nation, opposes his return..
A more plausible companion for Keiko might be Bjossa, the
Vancouver Aquarium killer whale who has had three unsuccessful pregnancies
in six years. The Vancouver Aquarium on November 24 officially
gave up trying to send Bjossa to another institution to avoid further pregnancies,
having been unable to find either any qualified takers or another
female suitable as a companion for her if the Vancouver Aquarium male,
Finna, were to be moved instead.
Noting that Finna and Bjossa also came originally from Icelandic
waters, the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation has reportedly offered to buy
them, along with the Pacific whitesided dolphin who shares their tank. On
paper, such a deal might work. The Vancouver Aquarium, the first to keep
orcas, has a whale tank now much smaller than the industry standard, but
while expansion space is theoretically available due to the recent closure of
the adjacent Stanley Park Zoo, the aquarium reportedly has little chance of
receiving permission to expand from the Vancouver Parks Board. The
Vancouver Aquarium also needs to find room for five Stellar sea lions who
became too tame during a metabolic study to be good prospects for return to
the wild, as was originally planned. If the whales move, their quarters
could become a sea lion den.
But the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation would probably not sign a
no-release provision, as the Vancouver Aquarium demands––and there
would still be the risk that either Keiko or Finna might impregnate Bjossa .