Seaquarium sea lions bark “Out, out, out!”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1996:

MIAMI, Florida––At deadline
USDA Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service chief Dale Schwindaman
hadn’t answered ANIMAL PEOP-
LE’s request for comment on Subpart
E, section 3.100, clauses (d) and (f) of
the Animal Welfare Act, which would
appear to stipulate that the Miami
Seaquarium has held the orca Lolita illegally
since July 30, 1987, when all variances
to keep marine mammals in undersized
tanks were to expire.
Schwindaman has claimed in
letters to the Seaquarium and Seaquarium
critics that while Lolita’s tank is technically
too small under the AWA standards,
the intent of the standards is met
because the tank is longer than required,
and therefore impounds about the same
amount of water as would be required of
a tank built to specifications. According
to Schwindaman, the Seaquarium
received a permanent variance in 1988,
allowing it to keep Lolita despite noncompliance
with the AWA.

However, as Dolphin Freedom
Foundation president Russ Rector argues,
the AWA does not appear to grant
USDA-APHIS the authority to issue such
a variance.
The ongoing campaign for
Lolita’s release is led by Ken Balcomb
and Howard Garrett of the Center for
Whale Research, located in Friday
Harbor, Washington, who argue that she
is the captive orca with the best chance
of survival if returned to the wild––a far
better prospect than Willy/Keiko, the
star of the Free Willy movies, who now
resides at the Oregon Coast
Aquarium––because her pod is known,
and still includes her mother and siblings,
who might remember her.
Lolita, also called Tokitae,
was captured on September 24, 1970,
by notorious orca hunter Don Goldsberry,
who rounded up two large pods of
orcas at Penn Cove, Whidbey Island,
Puget Sound, an island away from the
Center for Whale Research and not far
from the ANIMAL PEOPLE headquarters.
Plans advanced in local media by
both cetacean freedom advocates and
political figures call for bringing Lolita
back to a sea pen in Penn Cove, touted
as a potential major tourist attraction.
Rector differs with the “Free
Lolita” campaign over her release
prospects, believing she could not
readapt to freedom after so long in captivity,
argues that she should, however, be
retired to a significantly larger site,
where she could have companionship.
The Miami Seaquarium whale
stadium is the worst orca facility for an
orca in the U.S., agree Rector and
Garrett. Seaquarium efforts to expand
and renovate have been delayed by zoning
Sea lions
While Lolita remains well after
29 years in captivity, albeit alone since
the 1980 death of her mate, USDAAPHIS
documents Rector obtained on
October 7 reveal a history of lethal problems
involving the Seaquarium sea lions.
Forty-four sea lions have died at the
Seaquarium since 1974, including 34 of
49 pups. Twenty-one pups were stillborn
or died soon after birth between 1976 and
the 1986 birth of the first two longterm
survivors, among six pups whelped that
year. Twelve stillbirths and neonatal
deaths occurred within a 30-month interval,
from November 1989 to April 1992,
during which the Seaquarium was not
federally inspected. Fifteen of the 28
pups born during the past decade have
lived, but three plus two adults were
electrocuted on August 24, 1992, when
Hurricane Andrew dropped live power
lines into their tank.
Sea lion birthing and neonatal
problems may finally be ended, as all
five born since the hurricane are apparently
thriving. But a new problem began
after former Ocean World president
George Boucher became president of the
Seaquarium on January 16, 1995, five
months after Ocean World closed.
Boucher brought along other ex-Ocean
World staff including sea lion handler
Michelle Lousey, director of training
Robert Rose, and assistant director of
training Mike Spencer. None were
among the Ocean World staff named by
media in connection with a November
1991 USDA investigation of alleged cruelty
to an ailing sea lion, who was forcefed
while his mouth was wedged open
with a sock, but their approach to the job
soon became almost as controversial.
Former Seaquarium assistant
director of training Guy Gooch testified
in an August 16, 1995 letter to the
USDA that in May 1995, Rose tried to
ease crowding by housing other nonperforming
male sea lions with Max, blind
and partially paralyzed––against the
advice of assistant head trainer Elaine
Kravitz, who left before the attempts
began. First Max seriously injured
Wally, also old and blind; then, two
months later, Chitlin injured Max, who
died three weeks later.
Meanwhile, an attempt to
house two other nonperforming males
together got off to a bad start, according
to Gooch, when Bear bit Hemo more
than 100 times in two weeks. They
apparently did remain together.
Boucher in a November 8,
1995 affidavit blamed Gooch’s complaint
and others on Rector. Explained
Boucher, “Rector was a former trainer at
Ocean World in the early 1970s. He
asked me to rehire him when I was president
of Ocean World in 1988 and I
refused. Shortly thereafter he teamed up
with The Dolphin Project,” Ric
O’Barry’s anti-captivity organization,
“and eventually formed his own group.
Only after he had knowledge that I had
accepted a position at the Miami
Seaquarium did he focus his attention
here,” Boucher asserted.
The USDA has not charged the
Seaquarium with significant Animal
Welfare Act violations pertaining to any
of the sea lion deaths or injuries,
although inspector Kristina Cox, DVM,
substantiated Gooch’s account and stated
in an October 2, 1995 memo to her
supervisor that, “In my opinion, the
incompatibility [of Max, Willy, Chitlin,
Bear, and Hemo] was evident.”

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