Why Lolita will be speaking French in 2015
An article in the Miami Herald Business section indicates that a deal has been made to sell Miami Seaquarium to California-based Palace Entertainment. Palace is a U.S. subsidiary of Parques Reunidos based out of Spain. Among the 11 worldwide Zoo and Aquariums it owns, Marineland Antibes in France and Parques Reunidos in Valencia are most important to this conversation.
Marineland Antibes has the world’s largest orca tank and is currently home to six orca, as well as dolphins and a number of pinnipeds. Parques Reunidos is the largest marine park chain in Europe and its parks have many species of marine mammals including belugas and dolphins. It is believed that the second youngest calf at Marineland was sired through A.I. by SeaWorld owned Ulisis.
So what does this mean for Lolita?
One effort to free Lolita failed last week when the case was dismissed on March 25th, 2014. The case was built on the premise that the USDA permit to keep Lolita and exhibit her should not have been renewed based, among other things, on the assertion that her enclosure does not meet the federal statutes. However, Congress failed to include language in the statute requiring the same due diligence for renewal as initial applications. Therefore, the judge had no basis of law to reverse the renewal of the permit. In essence, the conditions of her enclosure could not be considered in the renewal process. What this means is the Lolita will not be returned to the open waters of the Pacific Northwest.
There is a petition to NOAA Fisheries to list Lolita as a member of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population under the ESA. If passed, either Lolita’s current enclosure must be made compliant, she would have to be moved to an AWA compliant site such as SeaWorld, or be moved to a Sea Pen. Since Lolita is beyond breeding years and introducing her to the dominant females at SeaWorld to include in show work would take years, SeaWorld would have little interest in purchasing her. Which brings us to France.
Change in Business Model at Miami Seaquarium
As a 15 million dollar asset included in the purchase of the Miami Seaquarium, and pending an approval in the permit process for transport by NOAA, her new owners will likely move Lolita to their Marineland in Antibes. This move insures that they do not have to take on continued government, legal, and public pressure, develop and construct a new enclosure for her, and allows the facility to move forward as a Dolphinarium benefiting the Dolphin breeding program of the Parques Reunidos chain, SeaWorld, and any number of other facilities such as Marineland Ontario, Vancouver Aquarium, and the Casinos which circulate dolphins from most of these aquariums presently. Reunidos specializes in Dolphin interaction type parks in many countries and owns Sea Life Park in Hawaii.
I spoke with John Hargrove, who spent 2 years at Marineland in depth today about the conditions that Lolita will face there. Hargrove told me that next to Katsaka, there is no female orca in the world more dominant than Freya, the matriarch at Marineland. A careful introduction process managed by ex-SeaWorld trainer Lyndsey Rubincam who has been at Marineland for 14 years would be necessary to insure that Lolita had a chance to build relationships with the current orca at the facility.
Undoubtedly the greatest benefit to Lolita in France would be her ability to socialize once again with her own species. John Hargrove believes that this opportunity, combined with the massive tanks at Marineland and the experience of Rubincam would be an incredible improvement in Lolita’s quality of life.
Business first, Whale Welfare somewhere below
It appears that the ESA petition process will drag out until January of 2015 and Lolita can not be moved out of the country until the determination is made whether to classify her as a member of the SRKW and therefore afforded protection under the act. Although this move would be a bitter disappointment for all of the NGOs and activists who have worked for so long to set her free, this industry is driven by business decisions first, and animal welfare somewhere further down the balance sheet. Seaquarium could be refitted and rebranded as a Dolphinarium, Lolita is out of the U.S. spotlight and in time could be used in show work in France. Nearly all reports thus far have cited park executives stating that Lolita would remain at Miami Seaquarium, however from a lot of angles, her move to France seems imminent.