Taking LolitaPosted by Carter Dillard, ALDF's Director of Litigation on March 21st, 2012
For Seaquarium Owners, Exploiting an Endangered Whale Is Just Business as Usual
Most people don’t make their living by exploiting endangered species - but for Arthur and Andrew Hertz, it’s been a profitable arrangement. This father-son duo owns and operates the Miami Seaquarium, an aquatic theme park in Florida that features Lolita, an endangered orca who has been forced to live and perform there for the past forty years. Lolita was captured near Puget Sound when she was about four years old – and is estimated to have brought the Seaquarium tens of millions of dollars since then.
The Seaquarium operates below federal animal welfare guidelines, including a tank that is smaller than mandated by the USDA; another orca housed with Lolita died several years ago after slamming his head into a concrete structure in the middle of the tank.
Her welfare aside, a federal court in Washington State must now decide whether Lolita’s being a member of an endangered species might actually change the rest of her life. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, and a number of individual plaintiffs have sued the federal government to ensure that Lolita is protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—when her pod was listed as endangered, captive members of the pod, like Lolita, were excluded from ESA protections with no explanation given by the National Marine Fisheries Services. Federal law prohibits the “take” or harming and harassing of endangered species—which likely includes what Seaquarium and its trainers do to Lolita in order to make her perform, as well as her current living conditions, which fall below federal regulations for housing orcas. Needless to say, Arthur and Andrew Hertz are concerned that the suit might cost them their star performer, and Seaquarium has intervened in the case in an attempt to have it thrown out of court.
Legal nuances aside, the moral question is simple: is it right for people like the Hertzs to exploit members of endangered species by keeping them in captivity, forcing them to perform, and charging the pubic to see the animals? The Endangered Species Act was designed to ensure that non-human species survive and thrive where they normally live, in part so that all Americans could view and enjoy those species in their natural habitat.
The Hertzs have become wealthy by charging people to see Lolita while keeping her in conditions that could not be further from her natural environs. If you wish to see her, you can pay the Hertzs the cost of admission. At first blush, the Hertzs, stout gentlemen all suits and smiles, don’t seem like your average wildlife poachers, stealing animals from their habitats and the public that wants them to remain there. But it’s not easy to explain the difference.
The court will soon decide what the future holds for Lolita. In the meantime, she continues to circle a barren tank comparable to a fishbowl, while Andrew and Arthur Hertz enjoy the good life she – and the Americans who must now pay a fee to see her – have provided.
If you'd like to urge the National Marine Fisheries Service to include captive members of Lolita's Southern Resident pod in Endangered Species Act protections, please sign ALDF's petition here.