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Activists Fight to Free Lolita, the World's Longest-Held Captive Orca

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As progress is made in the fight to stop captive breeding programs for orcas in aquariums the world over, it’s important not to forget about Lolita.

Lolita lives in a hotel-swimming-pool-sized enclosure in the Miami Seaquarium in Florida. She has been in captivity for 46 years, after being captured in 1970 off the North West Coast. During her capture, the men who herded her pod used nets, ropes and explosives to separate adults from babies: Five whales were killed in the capture.

Currently, Lolita is the property of Arle Capital, an investment company based in London. Protesters have gathered outside the company’s office to protest the animal’s imprisonment. Arle acquired Lolita when it bought the Spanish entertainment company Parques Reunidos, which itself owns Palace Entertainment, which runs Seaquarium, where Lolita performs seven days a week. Activists are seeking to have Lolita released to a refuge.

Julie Foster, a spokeswoman for Arle, told the U.K. Independent that vets make sure Lolita is healthy and the pool fits legal requirements.

“It would be a reckless and cruel experiment [to take her out of the tank] which would put her through a traumatic transport process and jeopardize her life,” she said. “Each year more than 85,000 schoolchildren and 600,000 other guests visit Miami Seaquarium to see and learn about Lolita.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued Seaquarium last year over Lolita. The movement to have orcas freed from captivity has gained momentum recently, thanks to the release of the documentary film Blackfish, which depicted the frequently cruel conditions the animals are subjected to.

Often, both captivity and re-release end the same way for orcas: Lolita’s companion Hugo died 34 years ago after repeatedly bashing his head agains the side of the tank, while a freed whale named Keiko was released near Iceland in 2002 but died after being rejected by other orcas.