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Shouka Six Flags Killer Whale Update May 18, 2012 – France intervenes

May 18, 2012

With the pressure on Six Flags to find Shouka, their star killer whale a new compatible companion, news of  her move is being discussed among attorneys.  It was announced on May 17th, 2012 that Shouka is still on a breeding loan from Marineland France to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California and a contractual dispute is occurring.

“That park loaned a killer whale to a  Six Flags in California for breeding purposes. But suddenly Six Flags wants to give the animal away to an unrelated party in Canada. Now, the parks are in a contractual dispute over one very large marine mammal named Shouka.”

This announcement brings another surprise, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is trying to relocate Shouka to a facility in Canada which just last year had a killer whale removed from their park due to not “caring properly for him“.  SeaWorld Inc. had loaned a male killer whale to Marineland of Canada in 2006 and last year were forced into suit with Marinleand Canada to get their killer whale back. Marineland Canada filed suit against SeaWorld in retaliation to SeaWorld’s request to bring Ike back to SeaWorld…it became a bitter custody dispute with SeaWorld prevailing in the end.

The removal of Ike from Marineland Canada left the facility with only one 35 year old female orca named Kiska. Transferring Shouka to Marineland Canada is not in the best interest of Shouka. The laws in Canada regarding captive marine mammals are not as strict as U.S.A. laws which means the quality of care for an orca in Canada do not meet the minimum requirements of U.S.A. laws. If Kiska was to die, Shouka could be allowed to remain alone with no law to fight for Shouka’s rights in place. Orcas are extremely social beings. To live alone would be equal to a human being living in isolation for the remainder of their lives.

This move by Six Flags Discovery Kingdom proves they are not able to properly care for Shouka under the current U.S.A laws and are finally being forced to figure something out.  Many believe that the best interest for Shouka would be to go back to France were she was born and also has some siblings who still reside there. In France Shouka has a sister, brother, half-brother, nephew and an unrelated older female with whom she lived the first 9 years of her life. France also raised Shouka for the first 9 years old her life and have more experience with Shouka.

Shouka had been singly house for the last 7 years with minimum access to a wild caught dolphin named Merlin. Also for a short time another bottlenose dolphin named Cupid had been housed with Shouka and Merlin. Six Flags trainers had hoped Cupid and Shouka would be able to perform together by Christmas of 2008. In the end Cupid was removed from Shouka Stadium and placed with other bottlenose dolphins that reside at Six Flags. In 2011 it was observed Shouka was no longer being housed with Merlin and she was all alone. Merlin had been moved to another part of the park with other bottlenose dolphins due to incompatibility issues between him and Shouka. With public pressure placed on APHIS to enforce the laws, Six Flags seems to now be defeated into acknowledging they can not properly find Shouka a compatible companion and must get rid of her but Canada is not the best option for Shouka either.

Here’s a bit of history about the orcas who have resided at Marineland Canada –

1. According to Zoocheck Canada, Marineland Canada has exhibited 29 killer whales since 1970 and only one orca resides there today.  Out of  the 29 killer whales they have owned 9 of those orcas were transfered to other facilities with only 2 of those orcas still alive today. Twenty killer whales have died in Marineland Canada’s care.

2. They housed “Junior”  a young juvenile wild caught male orca in a warehouse hidden away from public  with no natural sunlight for four years until he died. Junior was placed in the warehouse alone because he was beaten up on and did not get along with the other orcas. Footage of the conditions Junior was kept in during his time of isolation can seen in the documentary “A Fall From Freedom“.

3. All of the baby killer whales born at this facility have all DIED with the oldest living only 11 years.

1992 – Male baby lived only 2 months

1998 – Female baby lived only 11 days

1998 – Kanuck dies at 4 1/2 years old

2000 – Malik dies at almost 5 years old

2001 – Nova dies at 4 1/2 years old

2001 – Miscarriage of calf

2002 – Algonquin dies at 2 1/2 years old

2004 – April dies at 1 month old

2004 – Miscarriage of calf

2004 – Hudson dies at 6 years old

2004 – Neocia dies at 11 years old

2006 – Miscarriage of calf

2009 – Athena dies at 4 1/2 years old

4. Just in 2011 an American court of law found their facility to be unable to properly care for a killer whale and granted the killer whale be imported back to America.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom claims to care so much about Shouka publicly yet are considering relocating her to a facility which was just proven unfit for a SeaWorld orca?

New undercover footage exposes neglect & abuse happening at Marineland Canada 2012

Our hopes are that Marineland France will step in and actually bring Shouka back home. The facility in France is much larger compared to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Marineland Canada. Watch for an upcoming campaign to Send Shouka Home.


Controversial Move By Animal Activist Rocks The Boat

May 14, 2012

Shouka, The Killer Whale, Needs A Companion.
 Why this matters

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

In 2002 Shouka, a captive born killer whale, was imported to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio. Shouka was originally born at Marineland in Antibes, France. Shouka was only 9 yrs old when she was taken from her mother & father in France and given to the theme park Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio now known as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Six Flags had intended to import a wild caught male killer whale living at the marine park Mundo Marino in Argentina known as Kshamenk (pronounced “shah-menk”) to be Shouka’s companion. This act alone of trying to import Kshamenk into America was a known violation by Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio.  For one, Argentine law forbids export of any wild caught fauna. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) also requires that all actions associated with an import permit be legal in the country of origin. Secondly, Kshamenk’s capture was questionable as evidence and eyewitness testimony suggested that Kshamenk was “force-stranded” which is a forbidden way to capture a marine mammal under the MMPA.

Yet the U.S. governing agency of permit issuance, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), violated the very law they are to uphold, and granted the permit to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio to import Kshamenk from Argentina. This act lead to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other groups to file a lawsuit, challenging NMFS’s issuance of the import permit. They argued that the “import permit was improper because Argentina had not granted an export permit and because the legality of Kshamenk’s capture was very much in question. We also charged NMFS with violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to complete an environmental assessment, as required, before issuing the permit.”

Shouka’s permit application was approved by NMFS even though the export permit for Kshamenk was still pending approval in Argentina. Six Flags did not wait until Kshamenk’s export permit was approved in Argentina and instead imported Shouka to Ohio four days after NMFS approved the permit. Two months after Shouka had moved to Ohio, the authorization requested by Mundo Marino was denied by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Argentina and by the Secretary of Environment of Argentina, leaving Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio with no compatible companionship for Shouka under their care.

In 2004, before Shouka was to be moved from Ohio to California, a letter writing campaign was started by “Project Thursday Child, a project of Earth Island Institute” calling on the public to “take action to help free Shouka from captivity at Six Flags Marine World”.  The plea for help was asking the public to send a letter demanding Six Flags send Shouka back home to France. The pubic was also invited to join in with a leafleting campaign that was held at Six Flags, formally known as Marine World at that time. All attempts by Project Thursday Child, a project of Earth Island Institute went unheard and Shouka was brought to California. It seems by 2005 all efforts to help from Earth Island Institute for Shouka were ended.

With no way to obtain another killer whale and no back up plan if their deal for Kshamenk fell through, Shouka was to remain housed alone until they could find a compatible companion for her. Under the law Section 3.109 of the Animal Welfare Act states:

Marine mammals, whenever known to be primarily social in the wild, must be housed in their primary enclosure with at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species.

From 2002 until the spring of 2004 Shouka was housed at Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio alone. In the spring of 2004 when Shouka was moved from Ohio to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California no companion had been found for. Shouka once again was alone. It had been almost 2 years that Shouka had remained living alone under the care of Six Flags management.

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

In 2005 Six Flags Discovery Kingdom placed a wild caught, male bottlenose dolphin by the name of Merlin in with Shouka. Shouka and Merlin would continue to live with one another until the fall of 2011. During this same time Kim II , Shouka’s father died in 2005 and her mother Sharkan died in 2009 at Marineland in France.  Housing Shouka and Merlin seemed to be more of a challenge than Six Flags Discovery lead the public to believe.

In an inspection report from APHIS in the year of 2008, the agency notes the orca is “single housed;” that park officials were “using a dolphin as a companion animal but they are separated though next to each other a majority of the time.” The document, which indicated inspections done May 13 and June 5, 2008, says the “situation is being reviewed by USDA APHIS.”

No information was available regarding the USDA APHIS inspection or outcome regarding the above mentioned note.

In 2010 a group of independent individuals began protesting at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom regarding Shouka along with the dolphins housed at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Wendy Brunot, animal activist, would put together leafleating campaigns/protests using Facebook. She gathered a group of individuals who cared about the plight of Shouka and the other cetaceans residing at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. The group would go to stand their ground speaking out against cetaceans in captivity at the park.

The individuals would pass out 1,000’s of pamphlets explaining the dangers of captivity regarding cetaceans, along with information about just how socially connected cetaceans are in the wild. The protest by the individuals continued into 2011. No local organizations stepped forward to help these independent individuals with leafletting or sending out any support for Shouka during these protests at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.

Wendy Brunot would go onto to expose the treatment of Shouka to the public, including educating the public about tooth drilling that has been conducted on Shouka and ongoing isolation matters, with violations of the law.

All local and large marine mammal conservation organizations that were previously involved with Skouka & Kshamenk have ceased. Instead of living with their families Shouka and Kshamenk are now kept isolated from other killer whales and  have been living in captivity with bottlenose dolphins. Currently there is no campaign for Kshamenk to be moved to a seapen, yet there are lots of public talk about wanting to start a campaign for his release to a seapen soon.

In the fall of 2011, Shouka’s bottlenose dolphin companion Merlin would be removed from living with Shouka due to “incompatibility issues” after living with her for almost 7 years. As seen in the photos below there were times Shouka and Merlin spent together interacting on a level that not many get to see or even understand as Shouka & Merlin’s living arrangement was pretty unique among captive orcas and dolphins.

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot


For the first time in Brunot’s seven years of monitoring Shouka she discovered notable rake marks on Shouka in September of 2011. During this visit to the park in September 2011, Wendy Brunot was unable to find Merlin in with Shouka anywhere which prompted her to send a formal complaint of non-compliance of the AWA regarding Merlin and Shouka to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) the governing agency who is to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. Out of concern for Shouka, Brunot sent letters to APHIS in May 2011  and on September 7, 2011 regarding  compatibility issues between Merlin and Shouka. APHIS responded to Brunot’s May 2011 letter but took no action.

Excerpts from Brunot’s letter sent on September 7, 2011 to APHIS

2150 Centre Ave.
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
Via: 1st class mail and email:

RE: Report of Non- Compliance Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Customer ID: 27824, Certificate: 93-C-0809

“To Whom It May Concern:

Let this letter stand as a formal complaint and report of non-compliance of the Animal Welfare Act 9 C.F.R. Part 3 – Standards, Subpart E – Specifications for the Humane Handling, Care, Treatment and Transportation of Marine Mammals at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, 2001 Marine World Parkway, Vallejo CA 94589. This is not the first letter I have written about this establishment and I am asking that your agency look into these matters immediately.

According to Section 3.109 of the Animal Welfare Act, Shouka and Merlin are to be housed with at least one compatible animal.

Section 3.109 reads:

Marine mammals, whenever known to be primarily social in the wild, must be housed in their primary enclosure with at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species, except when the attending veterinarian, in consultation with the husbandry/training staff, determines that such housing is not in the best interest of the marine mammal’s health or wellbeing. 

However, marine mammals that are not compatible must not be housed in the same

enclosure. Marine mammals must not be housed near other animals that cause them

unreasonable stress or discomfort or interfere with their good health. Animals housed separately must have a written plan, approved by the attending veterinarian, developed in consultation with the husbandry/training staff, that includes the justification for the length of time the animal will be kept separated or isolated, information on the type and frequency of enrichment and interaction, if appropriate, and provisions for periodic review of the plan by the attending veterinarian. Marine mammals that are separated for nonmedical purposes must be held in facilities that meet minimum space requirements as outlined in §3.104. 

The continued separation of Shouka and Merlin is a clear disregard of the law by Six Flags.

When I visited Six Flags at the beginning of August, this was only the second time this year that I saw Merlin and Shouka together. The show ended earlier than normal as Shouka refused to perform. After the show, Shouka laid on her back with Merlin laying on top of her. It was clear she wanted to be with him and not perform in the show. When I asked her trainer Andy about this behavior, his response to me was that this was the first time Shouka and Merlin had been together for some time as Merlin had not been feeling well. In May when they were separated, Andy told me it was because Merlin was aggressive. It’s clear that there is obviously some sort of compatibility issues with the two of them due to the large rake marks on Shouka’s body and their continued separation.

When I visited Six Flags on September 4, 2011, I could not find Merlin in any of the tanks. I sat by the viewing windows of the back pools at Shouka stadium for hours and never saw Merlin come past the window once. The back pools of Shouka Stadium though are so disgustedly murky and filthy that Merlin may have been further away from the window and I may have not been able to see him. I do not know if Merlin has been moved from this area but I do know he is separated from Shouka.

Cetaceans are one of the most social animals on this planet which is why the law states they are to be housed with at least one compatible animal. Shouka and Merlin both being separated could potentially affect the mental well-being of these animals and requires your immediate attention.


Shouka the killer whale is housed with a male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, Merlin. Previously Shouka was housed with both Merlin and another male bottlenose dolphin, Cupid. Before the park opened in 2011, Cupid was moved to Merlin’s Harbor to join the other bottlenose dolphins which left only Shouka and Merlin at Shouka Stadium. During numerous visits to the park since April, Shouka and Merlin have only been in the same tank twice and performed in shows together twice. They have been continually separated by gates. During a visit on May 30, 2011, I asked Shouka’s trainer, Andy, why they were separated and his response to me was Merlin is an alpha male and becomes aggressive towards Shouka when she is not “cycling”. I have been to the park many times since May and have only seen Shouka and Merlin together one other time. On September 4, 2011, I visited the park and again Shouka and Merlin were separated. After the show, I took the following photos of Shouka which show quite large rake marks on her body.”

No response by APHIS was sent back to Brunot regarding her letter of September 7, 2011. Brunot waited month after month to see if Six Flags would find a compatible companion for Shouka.

Getting no where and after numerous inquires to the governing agency APHIS regarding Shouka’s condition Brunot took to the public for support through an online petition in March of 2012 to place pressure on APHIS to enforce the law. Everytime a person signs the online petition an email is sent directly to APHIS. The support is there as many people started signing the petition.

This petition is very different from the usual activist position Brunot generally advocates for. Instead of asking for Shouka to be placed in a seapen, Brunot is asking that the law be enforced to find Shouka a companion. The local news picked up the story and Brunot’s request  for a companion sparked negative responses from some folks within the marine mammal conservation community.  Individuals became concerned that Six Flags Discovery Kingdom will seek another orca, possibly from the wild or attempt to obtain Kshamenk again or even try for one of SeaWorld’s orcas to meet the public’s desire for a companion for Shouka. Brunot was told she should be advocating for Shouka to be moved to a seapen.

Shouka is captive born with family members remaining at Marineland in Antibes, France and Brunot took deep consideration about what would be best for Shouka and what the law is. Advocating for Shouka to be moved to a seapen would still mean she would be alone. Killer whales are known to be even more social than humans. Resident killer whales, like Shouka, will remain with their families throughout their entire lives. Tight knit pods are created among killer whales consisting of a matriarch female, her offspring and many generations beyond her.

Brunot’s concerns are in regards to Shouka’s best interest and the law being enforced. Brunot wishes to someday see the end of  what is known as “self-governing”  by marine parks.  She wishes to see another compatible companion placed with Shouka or Shouka go back to France where she would not be alone. If there is no pressure placed on APHIS to enforce the law, Shouka may remain alone forever if Six Flags Discovery Kingdom cannot find a compatible companion. In a day when seapens & freedom for captive killer whales are the focus, Brunot has gone against all the norm of “just free them”.

Brunot is well-known for her anti-captivity work against marine mammals in captivity.  She has worked with The Orca Project,  Jeff Ventre, John Jett, David Kirby  author of Death at SeaWorld and many others who are working towards making changes for marine mammals in captivity.  Brunot herself at one time wanted to be a SeaWorld trainer until her extensive research regarding the negative effects of cetaceans in captivity changed her outlook.

Brunot sees the issues of captive killer whales more than just a Black and White situation. Captive killer whales like Shouka fit into the gray areas in between. Shouka is not a free orca. She is owned by a corporation which does not wish to see her freed. Advocating for a seapen could take years to fight for, finance and then it could take years to build a seapen if this was the outcome. She says Shouka right now is in need RIGHT NOW and the law is being violated. Shouka had lived alone for over 2 years when she was originally brought to America and she is/has been living with what Six Flags Discovery Kingdom claims to be an “incompatible companion” for long enough, as they have finally removed Merlin. Now Shouka is back to being alone once again.

“Shouka did not ask to be born into captivity, the least she deserves as long as she is in captivity is companionship.” W. Brunot

Although as a citizen, Brunot is not alone. As of right now her petition has reached 1,175 signatures with the numbers growing daily. Shouka’s story has been reprinted by numerous news stations across the U.S. and Brunot states she will continue until the laws are changed or enforced.

In loving memoriam – her name was “Cathi”

April 19, 2012

In loving memoriam – her name was “Cathi”

Written by Kelly J. Conner on Thursday, April 19, 2012
Her name was Cathi.  That is what we humans and the trainers and staff of Miami Seaquarium called her and the name she learned to respond to.  Far different from the name she was born with.  That name was a series of clicks and whistles recognized by her pod until that tragic, fateful day.  On November 2, 1971, Cathi was swimming freely in the ocean with her pod, chasing waves, hunting and eating fish, playing with pod mates; seemingly without a care in the world.  She was young, vibrant, happy and alive.  Then suddenly, she was being chased by a boat and captured in a net and hauled into that boat.  Her cries and frantic pleas for help to her pod mates went unanswered.  Or, maybe they did try to answer and they were powerless to come to her rescue against one of the few predators of her species.  On that horrible, fateful day she was plucked from her vast, blue home in the ocean, in the waters off Key Biscayne, Florida and sent to a new home.  That new ‘home” was a small circular tank at a place called the Miami Seaquarium.  It is hard to imagine the terror she must have felt inside when that net trapped her and suddenly limited her ability to move.  She must have been very confused, scared and lonely.  I was two months old when Cathi was captured.


                From the early 1960’s, the Miami Seaquarium was in the habit of naming the dolphins it would use in its “Flipper” series either “Cathi” or “Samantha” (aka Sammy for short).  Most of those dolphins were caught in the waters of Biscayne Bay on the coast of Southeastern Florida.  The dolphins were sometimes injured during the capture process and they were immediately placed in a medical tank until their survival from the experience was ensured.  Once the Seaquarium staff was sure the dolphin would survive, they were moved to another tank where they began their training.  Some of the dolphins would die within hours, some within a few days and some would go on to perform for years.  The list from the Marine Mammal Inventory Report is a sad and sorry sight. “Florida Snowball” was captured on October 22nd, 1965 and died on October 25th, 1965.  The dolphin named “Pancho” was caught on January 1, 1970 and survived in captivity for 12 years, 17 days¹.  “Pancho” was famous for his flips in his tank at the east end zone of the Orange Bowl stadium when the Miami Dolphins would score a touchdown or field goal.  Pancho was eventually retired from that post and returned to the Miami Seaquarium.  Pancho’s death was attributed to “intestinal failure”.  He died on January 17, 1982 and his stomach contents included 2 deflated footballs, 31 coins, 21 stones, 1 trainers whistle, 10 penny nail, 2 screws, 1 metal tag, 1 piece of wire, 1 metal staple and several unidentifiable objects².  Such is the life of a dolphin in captivity.  Captive dolphins live a life of endless boredom; swimming in circles and performing the same routine twice daily every single day.  Imagine a life of the same routine day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year, never able to leave that small place of confinement.  Dolphins are highly inquisitive and intelligent by their very nature.  Any items thrown into their tank becomes a new toy or object of amusement, even if only briefly.  Frequently, objects are ingested and cause intestinal obstructions, infections and other problems.  Cathi’s fate would not be a death from endless boredom and intestinal issues.  She would not die from pneumonia or the various other infections she would have from time to time throughout her life. Cathi would have many babies as part of a breeding program, but few would go on to survive.  Cathi was stubborn and strong spirited; she was a survivor and when she finally died, it would be from old age.  In the industry of captive entertainment, amusement parks and breeding programs, Cathi could be used as an example of success; and yet she wasn’t.  Her death was denied and kept a secret, her name quickly forgotten.  There will be no commemorative plaques or dedications to her for her lifelong service to those that profited from her captivity.  There will be no acknowledgement of her existence at all, other than her name appearing on the Marine Mammal Inventory Report.  Was her loss even mourned or felt by the profiteers at Miami Seaquarium?


                I first met Cathi on January 19, 2011.  I’m sure I had encountered her previously as a small child in the visits I had to Miami Seaquarium, but it wasn’t until my eyes were opened as an adult that I decided I needed to go see for myself how pitiful the lives of captive dolphins were that I became familiar with Cathi.  At the time that I met Cathi, she lived in the tank of dolphin lobby at Miami Seaquarium and performed in the top deck dolphin show twice a day.  Her tank mates included her daughter, Samantha, a singular male named J.J., a spritely younger dolphin named “Disco Denise” and another dolphin’s name I cannot at this time recall.  Cathi was the most easily recognizable of the five dolphins in the tank of dolphin lobby.  She swam in circles with her right eye closed and had a scar from an old laceration just below her dorsal fin on her right side.  Cathi also had what I would come to call “corrosion” on her rostrum, an area of tissue necrosis that was anything but attractive.  The tip of her rostrum (nose) was discolored, appeared to have mold and also looked as though something had eaten away small chunks of it.  Her daughter, Samantha has a similar disease process.  After that visit, I contacted a friend of mine, a marine biology student and talked to her about the dolphins in the tank.  She suggested I bring a mirror to help ease the boredom of the dolphins and provide them with amusement.  It was a wonderful idea!  My future visits, I brought my trusty mirror and got to know the dolphins in the tank of dolphin lobby and I suspect some of them began to recognize me.  Most interested in the mirror was Samantha; she loved to look at herself and the mirror was like a magnet to her.  Denise loved it too and sometimes Samantha and Denise would compete for who could squeeze in front of it more.  At one point or another, all the dolphins would come and take a look at themselves, all but one.  Cathi never came and looked in the mirror.  Cathi was always oblivious to the crowds gathered at the windows.  She swam in circles and paid no attention to the people or the crowds.  Sometimes she swam quickly, as if to escape from the endless staring and tapping on the glass and sometimes she kept more to the center of the tank, swimming in her circles slowly, perhaps taking a break or resting.  Cathi paid attention to the trainers and to the fish she was given during performances, other than that, it appeared that her life was a series of endless circles.  She would interact with J.J. and Samantha the most and sometimes, she would rub herself on the ever dirty pipes at the bottom of the tank as some form of tactile stimulation.  I have come to learn that dolphins in the wild require a lot of tactile stimulation and frequently rub against each other for social interaction and affection.  It became horribly sad to me that Cathi turned to an inanimate object like dirty filtration pipes to satisfy her need for her tactile stimulation.  What a far cry it must have been from those rubs of affection she would have frequently received from her pod mates in her former life in the wild.  I often wonder if she ever yearned for the affection of her former life.  Did she miss swimming free in the ocean, the world as her play place without borders, boundaries or limitations?


                On that first visit to Miami Seaquarium, I obtained an annual pass.  It was free as part of a promotion for Florida residents.  I visited Miami Seaquarium frequently, as often as I could and I would take pictures and document what I thought might be health issues or perhaps violations of the Animal Welfare Act.  I began writing to the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service about Lolita, her tank and what I perceived to be violations of the AWA regarding Lolita’s tank and stadium and I frequently wrote regarding Lolita’s welfare and the welfare of the other animals too.  My primary purpose was to try to help Lolita.  I have since come to believe that the USDA/APHIS is useless as a government agency and even though they have been provided with ample proof of violations, they will never admit to it.  USDA/APHIS is like the person that can never admit they are wrong and never offer an apology.  Their interpretation of the law is the final and last word, even if the law quite clearly defines itself and they will write their nice little responses and remain polite and draw diagrams and quote statements and citations and furnish copies of inspection reports (even ones that disagree with what they tell you and support your argument!)  and the list goes on and on and on, but they will never and I do mean NOT EVER admit that they are wrong or apologize.  So along on my quest to help Lolita, I was able to get to know a few dolphins and while I am opposed to the captive entertainment industry, I will shamefully admit that there were times I looked forward to my time with the dolphins in dolphin lobby and playing with the mirrors and lights.  Dare I say, I even enjoyed those moments with them, although I always left Miami Seaquarium feeling sad, frustrated and heavy hearted.  Feeling the oppression of all of the magnificent creatures in their dilapidated and unnatural surroundings is incredibly emotionally draining and downright depressing.  I could never work in a place like that.


                It was from my visits to Miami Seaquarium and talking about it that I started to get to know people.  Some of them were former employees of the Seaquarium itself and I started to learn a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in the world of marine park entertainment.  I started asking questions about Cathi.  I wanted to know why she wouldn’t open her right eye.  Did she have an eye or did she lose it??  Why wouldn’t she take an interest in the mirror and why did she rub on those pipes for tactile stimulation when she shared her tank with four other dolphins?  Unfortunately, most of those questions are questions that only Cathi would be able to answer.  Her medical records are unattainable as they are considered confidential because she was not by law an individual, but rather she was a piece of property, a number on an inventory report, a dollar sign for an amusement park, and as she aged and became infirm, she was no longer a dollar sign, but a liability.  A couple of people that knew Miami Seaquarium, Cathi and/or the industry tried as best as they could to answer my questions.  One answer I received was “she doesn’t want to look at anyone.  She’s sick of it and prefers to ignore it and refuses to open her eye.”  Having observed her many times and interacting with her tank mates, I could see the reasoning behind that conclusion.  I never saw her swim in the other direction with her left eye looking out.  She always swam so that we could only see her right side.  Another person told me that her eye was closed because of the chlorine in the tanks and that over time, she had probably had multiple eye infections and that the chlorine burns their eyes and irritates the eyes of captive mammals.  Their tanks are salt water tanks, but chlorine must be added to keep bacteria, fungi and microbial growth to a minimum.  Multiple infections over the course of her life in captivity made a lot of sense too.  Whether it was one or the other or a combination of both, it was a unique part of Cathi and gave me greater understanding into Lolita too, as Lolita only rarely opens her eyes.  What I would not give to have been able to look into Cathi’s eye(s) just once to acknowledge her; to let her know that I did care that she was taken from her life in the wild and that I wished her life would have been different.


                Not only was Cathi a part of the entertainment industry, she was also part of Miami Seaquarium’s animal husbandry program.  Cathi was a breeding machine.  She performed day in and day out, whether she was sick or not and whether she was pregnant or not for nearly forty years.  Cathi was a mother and a grandmother.  In honor of Cathi and her life, I will list her calves with dates of birth and death (if applicable) from what I have been able to find from


name: Jessica (F)

born: 29-September-1976

died:  23-October-1976

Flippy (sire)


name:  Ivan (M)

born:  27-August-1983

died:  31-July-1989

Papi (sire)


name:  Samantha (F)

born:  06-November-1986

died:  —

Papi (sire)


name:  Tori (F)

born:  19-July-1990

died:  01-October-2000

Papi (sire)


name:  Unnamed 1992

born:  06-August-1992

died:  16-September-1992

Unknown (sire)


name:  Ripley (M)

born:  13-October-1993

died:  —

J.J. (sire)


name:  Orion (M)

born:  28-September-1999

died:  31-October-2002

J.J. (sire)


name:  Abaco (M)

born:  02-May-2001

died:  —

J.J. (sire)


                If Cathi had been a human being and had her story been written, the world would lament that such an act of atrocity akin to slavery could occur in this day and age and we would have admired her strength and courage and ability to survive and endure in even the bleakest of circumstances.  Surely it must have been bleak to be taken from the freedom of the vast open world of the ocean and placed in a tiny tank the human equivalent of a bathtub; forced to perform tricks in order to eat; forced to live a life of confinement and servitude.  Surely it must have been bleak to have babies and have those babies die prematurely or have them forced into the same life of pleasing noisy crowds with circus tricks to be fed a few dead fish.  Surely it must have been misery to watch your daughters have babies and watch those babies die or be taken for entertainment.  Cathi was mother to eight calves, three of which are still alive.  Samantha has had four calves, two are still alive; Aries and Zo.  Tori, deceased had a female calf named Denise, who was previously Cathi’s tank mate and at the time this was written, Denise still lives in dolphin lobby at Miami Seaquarium.  What a tragic legacy Cathi left behind.


                In late August of 2011, I visited Miami Seaquarium and noticed there were only three dolphins in the tank in dolphin lobby; Cathi and J.J. were missing from the tank.  Dolphins are moved around from one exhibit to another frequently, so I did not find this as a cause to be alarmed.  I took the month of September off and returned again in October of 2011.  Again, I noticed that Cathi was missing and this time I chose in inquire as to her whereabouts.  After the top deck dolphin show, I approached one of the trainers and asked what happened to Cathi and J.J.  I was told J.J. was moved to the Flipper exhibit and Cathi was moved to Dolphin Harbor.  I marched straight over to the Flipper exhibit and confirmed that J.J. was indeed one of the dolphins performing in that show.  Dolphin Harbor is a little more difficult to confirm as it is where Miami Seaquarium has the swim with dolphins program and unless you have a ticket, you are not allowed in that area.  I was disappointed that I had no way of knowing other than to wait.  One year prior, a dolphin by the name of Hollywood lived in the dolphin lobby tank and when she passed away, anyone that asked about her was told she was “relocated to Dolphin Harbor.”  It was two months before anyone was able to confirm that Hollywood died.


                Depending on what source you choose to believe, wild dolphins have an average lifespan of about 25 to 40 years, with the females living longer than males.  Animal welfare advocates that are opposed to marine parks often cite premature death from diseases and depression as reason that marine parks should not exist for entertainment purposes.  Given that Cathi was probably a few years old at the time she was captured in 1971 and she had been in captivity for almost 40 years, one would think that perhaps her life should be remembered; that Miami Seaquarium should honor her and celebrate her life and mourn her passing for all that she gave to them after everything that was taken from her.  Would it have been so horrible for the trainer to acknowledge her passing by telling me she was an old gal and passed away?  I will come to think of the words “dolphin harbor” as a profane euphemism for “dead and forgotten.”  Cathi died on August 21, 2011.  It was the day before my 40th birthday and three short months before the 40th anniversary of her capture.  For Cathi, I would say and do what Miami Seaquarium would never do for you, yet should have done:  I will never forget and I will seek to honor your memory.  Thank you for your years of service, even though it was forced upon you.  Thank you for your calves and the legacy you leave behind.  The world will never know how many children’s lives you enriched during your years of performing and captivity.  For Cathi, I will send this far and wide and maybe, just maybe it will be published in some little piece of paper somewhere and if not, then at least I will have tried my hardest.  It is sad, shameful and disgraceful that Miami Seaquarium could not do this for you at the time of your death as you so rightfully deserved.  For Cathi, I’m sorry it took me all this time to find out about you.  I hope that where ever you are, you are at peace and you are now swimming once again with your pod in the wild, jumping on the waves, hunting fish, playing and rejoicing in the beauty of freedom and the vast open spaces of blue before you.  Good bye Cathi, may you rest eternally at peace.


                One last little note before I sign off on this “blog” or “essay” or whatever anyone wishes to call it.  If anyone thinks this is too long, let me inform you that living in a tiny tank for 40 years, swimming in endless circles after having known the freedom of the open spaces of the ocean is also too long.  Cathi deserved the best, and my best in this is all that I could give her.


Kelly J. Conner





 Cathi – February 22, 2011


Shouka Needs A Companion

March 23, 2012

In 1979, a memorandum of agreement was signed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (F&WS). Under this agreement, Animal Welfare Act (AWA) standards and regulations were acknowledged to be the evaluation criteria for captive care and maintenance requirements for marine mammals and APHIS was designated to provide the inspection and enforcement workforce to implement the regulations.

Section 3.109 of the Animal Welfare Act states “Marine mammals, whenever known to be primarily social in the wild, must be housed in their primary enclosure with at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species, except when the attending veterinarian, in consultation with the husbandry/training staff, determines that such housing is not in the best interest of the marine mammal’s health or well-being. However, marine mammals that are not compatible must not be housed in the same enclosure. Marine mammals must not be housed near other animals that cause them unreasonable stress or discomfort or interfere with their good health.”

Since November 2011, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA has not been abiding by this law when it comes to keeping a companion for the killer whale, Shouka. In 2002, Shouka was taken from her mother, father and siblings in France and transported to Six Flags World of Adventure in Ohio to become a new profit maker for the park. Shouka’s new companions were bottlenose dolphins. When SeaWorld purchased the Ohio park  in 2004, Shouka was moved to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA. Shouka’s new companions at the Vallejo park became Merlin and Cupid, two male bottlenose dolphins. Shouka had lived with both Merlin and Cupid for over 5 years, but now she is completely alone.

Before the park opened in April 2011, Cupid was moved to another tank in the park to join a group of bottlenose dolphins leaving Shouka and Merlin alone. Throughout the 2011 season, I personally witnessed Shouka and Merlin continuously separated in their tanks by gates. Shouka often performed shows alone with Merlin locked in one of the back tanks of the stadium alone. As of November 2011, Merlin was moved to join Cupid and the other bottlenose dolphins, leaving Shouka with not a single companion of her own species. Even though Merlin and Shouka are not both killer whales, the way the USDA’s APHIS interprets the law, it is acceptable for a dolphin and a killer whale to be considered companions as they both are marine mammals of the order Cetacea.

Shouka and Merlin

Killer whales are one of the most intelligent, social beings living on this planet. They form strong social bonds with their family members and remain with their family pod for their entire life.  Leaving Shouka alone without any type of companionship except for humans is utterly cruel and inhumane and against the law. I had written to APHIS several times during 2011 advising them that Shouka was without any companionship and they have completely ignored my concerns.

So I’m now asking for your help. Please take a quick moment of your time to sign this petition demanding that APHIS enforces the law and requires Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to provide Shouka with a compatible companion. Shouka has been alone for at least six months!!

You can also write, email or call APHIS:


2150 Centre Ave.

Building B, Mailstop 3W11

Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117

Phone: (970) 494-7478

Fax: (970) 494-7461


August 6, 2011

Lolita in the tank she's been trapped in for 41 years

In just a few months, I will be turning 40 years old. When thinking of all the places I have been, all the different experiences I have had, all the fun, the joy, the laughter, the tears….I contemplate what life must be like for Lolita. I live in a fairly small house, at only 620 sq ft, and there isn’t one day that I don’t have an urge to go outside. Many days go by where I sit and think about Lolita, saying to myself What if? What if my house was empty and I had spent the last 40 years in this same space? What if I was never to see my family for the last 40 years? What if I was trapped here with nothing to do for the last 40 years? What if I was stuck in this little house with no human companionship for the last 40 years? What if several times a day people watched through the windows while I did acrobatic tricks in my little house for the last 40 years? I can’t even fathom What if? I would go crazy, completely out of my mind. This makes me wonder how Lolita has done this for 41 years. The inner strength she must have to continue to survive in that miniscule tank proves to me she has a will to live.

On August 8th, 2011, it will be 41 years since Lolita’s family was forced into Penn Cove, WA by means of speedboats and bombs like M80s. Lolita and over 80 of her family members were surrounded by nets and trapped while the youngsters were chosen for various marine parks. Lolita was one of the chosen ones at only 3-4 years old. She was kept in Penn Cove until September 24, 1970 when she was flown to Miami, FL and placed in an unnatural tank of water, scared and alone. Lolita was to become the “bride” of Hugo, a male orca the Miami Seaquarium purchased two years earlier.

For the next 10 years, Lolita and Hugo performed together until Hugo died from a brain aneurysm on March 4, 1980…..30 years ago! I think back to the What if? What if I lived in this little empty house for the last 30 years of my life without any human companionship. Orcas are known to be one of the most socially complex creatures on this planet. Resident orcas, like Lolita, live and breathe family. They do everything together. What if I was never able to give my mom a hug again? What if I never heard her voice again? Lolita has some Pacific White-Sided dolphin companions but it’s not the same for her. They are not her family. They don’t speak the same language. I’m sure Lolita and the dolphins have formed some sort of communication, but it would be like us communicating with a chimp. It’s just not the same, it’s not family.

Lolita does have an opportunity to see her mother again. An opportunity to hear her voice, see her family. An opportunity to feel the ocean tide on her body once again. An opportunity to be free, free from that tank, free from being an opportunity for people to be entertained. Lolita has a complete, detailed retirement plan that will give her a chance to experience what she was born onto this planet to experience. So many years have been lost but that doesn’t mean that the opportunity could not be given. It brings me back to think about, What if? A few years ago, Jaycee Dugard, was found after she had been missing for 18 years. From the age of 11 until she was found, she was kept in a backyard compound for years, many of which she was locked in a room alone. She had two children by her male kidnapper, both of which lived with her in the backyard compound. What if when Jaycee was recognized, she was not reunited with her family? What if she was told she had to stay in that backyard compound for the rest of her life? What if people said she couldn’t adjust to normal life? Nobody thought in that manner. She was immediately reunited with her mother and family. Why shouldn’t Lolita be given that same opportunity. The Miami Seaquarium owners say Lolita wouldn’t survive. There’s too much pollution in the water. She’s happy in her tank. Really? Did anyone think Jaycee Dugard was happy in that backyard compound? She was taken care of by her kidnappers. She was given food and things to do. But did that make her really happy?

Just because Lolita is not human does not mean she doesn’t feel. Orcas are highly, intelligent, sentient beings who are capable of feeling emotions, capable of feeling love and loss. Lolita has adapted to captivity for 41 years. There’s no reason why she couldn’t adapt to the wild once again. What is needed is supporters, people to take charge and push for Lolita’s retirement. Pressure needs to be made on the Seaquarium and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). APHIS is the governing agency who oversees the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Besides the appalling fact that Lolita has been trapped at the Miami Seaquarium for 41 years, her tank is illegally sized according to the AWA. The fact that she doesn’t have another orca companion is illegal according to the AWA. The fact that she does not have any shade structure to protect her is illegal according to the AWA. Despite numerous complaints by concerned citizens, APHIS has done nothing to help Lolita’s situation. She needs you. Her family needs you. What if that wonderful person didn’t speak up for Jaycee Dugard and allowed her to continue to live in that backyard compound? Lolita needs you to be the one to speak up for her. Be her voice.

Several cities around the United States are holding demonstrations the week of Lolita’s capture date in 1970. If a city near you is listed below, be Lolita’s voice for a few hours. If your city is not listed, be Lolita’s voice in your city.


Please note that events are on different days throughout the week of August 7th.

AUGUST 7, 2011

WASHINGTON – Penn Cove, Coupeville, Whidbey Island

12 – 4pm – Begins with ceremonial cruise at capture sight in Penn Cove

For more information on the Washington event:!/event.php?eid=138022639550195

BAY AREA, CALIFORNIA – Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo CA

1 – 3:30 pm – Meet at the front entrance to park

For more information on the Bay Area event:!/event.php?eid=238585352828525

AUGUST 8, 2011

MIAMI, FL – Third Annual Walk for Lolita

12 – 5 pm – Meet at the first parking lot after the bridge on Rickenbacker Causeway

For more information on the Miami event:!/event.php?eid=169223919816132

AUGUST 13, 2011


1 – 3pm –  Corner of 4th and Pine near the Water Fountain

For more information on the Seattle event:!/event.php?eid=190472254345956


1 – 3 pm – In front of the Miami Seaquarium

For more information on the Miami event:


12 – 2 pm

For more information on the Boston event:


12 – 3 pm – Riverside Park (in front of the big fountain)

For more information on the Wisconsin event:!/event.php?eid=119284311501596


1 – 3pm – 198 Central Avenue, White Plains, NY

For more information on the New York event:

Contact: Molly Rickles  –


1 – 3pm – Meet at Harkins Bricktown Cinemas

For more information on the Oklahoma event:

AUGUST 20, 2011


1 – 3pm River & Osborne

For more information:



Demand An End To Captive Orca/Dolphin Breeding- Tell SeaWorld NO MORE captive whales & dolphins!

July 27, 2011

Some will argue SeaWorld has played a role in raising awareness regarding orcas and dolphins while other’s will argue SeaWorld has only exploited these animals for fame and monetary gain. Regardless of what has played out in the past, it is now time to retire the idea of accepting orcas and dolphins in captivity. This way of thinking is out dated and must be condemned for the sake of the animals well-being.

SeaWorld is very desperate right now for “new” breeding genes to add to their captive orca breeding program. SeaWorld has over breed, cross-breed and even inbreed their whales to keep the show going, but the gene pool stock is running low. This is leading to the possibility that SeaWorld is trying to collect semen from a male wild caught captive orca in a foreign country to attempt to add diversity into their orca stock gene pool. This should be viewed as unacceptable to the public and law makers, as laws prohibit from the importation of the entire orca into the states….

Why the sperm?

No gloves during medical exam

→ There is a new petition seeking an amendment be made to the Marine Mammal Act of the United States Law

We,the undersigned,request the United States House of representatives to amend  Subpart B  section 216.12 of the Marine Mammal Act to include a ban on importation of Marine Mammals and Marine Mammal Products into the United States for purposes of Scientific Research,and that the issuing of permits for Scientific research and the importation and issuing of permits  of Marine Mammals for purposes regarding introduction of captivity in any Marine park, Aquarium,or other aquatic facility located within the jurisdiction of the United States,or its territories,be deemed unlawful.We request this amendment to 216.12 of the Marine Mammal Protection act to include all Marine Mammals inclusive with section 216.15 of the depleted species section of the act.The importation of Marine Mammals into the United States,whether it be for scientific research,or under permits or license issued by the U.S.secretary of Commerce,condemns Marine Mammals to death or captivity.We request review and adoption of an amendment by the U.S. House of Representatives,request a vote on the aforementioned proposed amendment to 216.12 of the act,and that certification of the proposed amendment be submitted to the United States Senate for review by the judiciary committee,and that said amendment be adopted by the United States Senate.  REFERENCE 16 U.S.C.1374 section 104,issuance of permits,section (c).Subchapter (A) Part 216-Regulations Governing the taking and importation of Marine Mammals.


 Another desperate attempt is to obtain Morgan, a female wild caught orca who was not doing well and became separated from her pod in Dutch waters.

 Morgan’s story is another Tilikum story. The opportunity for release existed/exists yet SeaWorld worked/works to pursued to the Icelandic/Dutch government saying Tilikum could not be released as he would expose the wild orcas to captive diseases and Morgan can not be released because she has been in captivity.

No Gloves during medical procedure

SeaWorld is fighting tooth and nail for Morgan. An attorney is representing Morgan in hopes of getting her released back to the wild where she belongs.

→ Morgan Needs our help, please sign Morgan’s petition

This would not be occurring to Morgan if these animals were not being kept for display, she would have been released back to the her pod. If the public would have stood up for Tilikum prior to his transfer to SeaWorld, he would not have been able to play a role in the death of three individuals in captivity. Tilikum would have been free with his family doing what they best, living life.

It is time to we take a stance against the public display of orcas and dolphins in captivity by ending the captive breeding programs. Once the captive breeding program is ended the remaining orcas and dolphins could phased out over time.

→ Please sign our petition if you agree SeaWorld should end their captive breeding orca and dolphin programs out their captive orcas and dolphins.

It’s Time To Go Above & Beyond for Lolita

June 8, 2011

For over 25 years, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) has refused to enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) when it comes to Lolita, the killer whale housed at the Miami Seaquarium. APHIS has not only refused to enforce the AWA, they have provided concerned members of the public with misleading and contracting information to justify that the Miami Seaquarium meets and even exceeds AWA regulations in regards to Lolita’s housing situation. The numerous interactions I’ve had with APHIS over the last year has proven they are not interested in enforcing the AWA. Instead they are interested in protecting the interests of the Miami Seaquarium.

This photo clearly shows how miniscule Lolita's tank is compared to her body length

Since 1970, Lolita has been living in an illegally sized tank, unprotected from the blazing Miami sun, storms &  hurricanes. Lolita has also been without the companionship of another orca since 1980. The Animal Welfare Act is the only means of protection that Lolita has and the fact that our government continues to turn a blind eye to this situation has prompted myself and others to continue to speak on Lolita’s behalf.

The most egregious AWA violation concerns the minimum horizontal dimension (MHD) of Lolita’s tank. Lolita’s tank measures 35 feet wide x 80 feet long making the MHD measurement 13 feet less than the 48 foot minimum requirement of the law. Lolita is approximately 21 feet long. Just a simple glance at her tank would be enough for any rational person to detect there is no way Lolita’s tank could measure at least 48 feet wide

In 2010, I sent a complaint letter to APHIS expressing my concerns that Lolita’s tank size was not in accordance with the law. I received a response from Chester Gibson, APHIS’s Deputy Administrator of Animal Care stating to me Lolita’s tank size met and even exceeded the minimum requirement of the AWA.

Gibson stated: The minimum horizontal dimension (MHD) requirement is 48 feet; the MHD measurement is 80 feet in one direction and 60 feet in the other. We did NOT include the medical pool area in our MHD measurements of the main pool. Therefore use of the medical pool area does NOT diminish the size of the main pool.

There is no dispute that the measurement parallel to the trainer’s work station was 80 feet, but there is a major dispute in the other MHD measurement. Knowing there is absolutely no way possible that Lolita’s main pool measured 60 feet without use of the medical pool prompted a second complaint letter to APHIS.  In January 2011, I sent a second complaint letter to Chester Gibson with clear photographic proof that refuted APHIS’s claims that Lolita’s tank was legally sized. I wanted an explanation as to how Lolita’s tank measured 60 feet along with all documents on file with APHIS that pertained to the measurements of Lolita’s tank.  At this time I also requested APHIS publicly re-measure the tank as an effort to stop the unnecessary use of tax dollars APHIS has wasted for decades responding to the thousands of complaints they have received from concerned citizens about Lolita.

To no surprise, Chester Gibson responded by dismissing my concerns and refusing to publicly re-measure Lolita’s tank.  With no explanation as to how Lolita’s tank could measure 60 feet, I was told

However, as we mentioned in our prior letter, according to our measurements, Lolita’s pool size fully meets – an in fact, exceeds – the space requirements for marine mammals as detailed in Section 3.104 of the Animal Welfare Act.

This letter referenced me to contact Dr. Betty Goldentyer, D.V.M., Eastern Regional Director if I would like to discuss my complaint further. I promptly contacted Dr. Goldentyer providing her with the same letters I sent to Chester Gibson along with the responses I received from Mr. Gibson asking her for the explanation I failed to receive from Chester Gibson. Dr. Goldentyer initially thought it would be best to discuss my concerns over the phone.

Google Earth Measurements proving Lolita's tank is illegally sized

Dr. Goldentyer called me on March 14th, 2011 and said that my confusion was due to the Google Earth measurement photographs I sent to APHIS did not show under the island in Lolita’s tank. She proceeded to tell me that the island was actually a floating platform that was held up by some sort of pedestal. Therefore, Lolita could swim underneath it making her tank legally sized.

I made Dr. Goldentyer aware that I had a picture of Lolita’s tank drained showing the island was solid cement and it extended to the bottom of the pool. When I asked her when the Seaquarium remodeled the tank, she had no answers and continually stated that Lolita can swim under the island so it’s legal.  I asked Dr. Goldentyer even if Lolita could swim under the platform, according to Chester Gibson of APHIS, the medical pool was not included in their 60 foot MHD measurement.

Lolita's tank drained clearly showing the island is solid cement

She proceeded to tell me that APHIS’s  60 foot measurement was from the edge of the main pool to where the gates were connected to the island.  I expressed to Dr. Goldentyer this made no sense as the pool measured 35 feet which would require the island to be 25 feet wide to match their 60 foot measurement.  The island only measures 11 feet.  As the conversation went on with Dr. Goldentyer stumbling over her words, I finally told her I would send her the pictures I had of Lolita’s tank drained and asked her to send me the viewing window picture she claimed to have showing that Lolita can, in fact, swim under the cement island.  Immediately I sent Dr. Goldentyer the above image of Lolita’s tank drained.

A few days after I had this phone conversation with Dr. Goldentyer, I received documents from APHIS which I requested via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

These documents are APHIS’s “blueprints” for the measurements of Lolita’s tank. These documents prove the 35 foot measurement of Lolita’s main pool I took from Google Earth was indeed correct and APHIS’s Chester Gibson was incorrect by stating the main pool measured 60 feet.


For the last four months, Dr. Goldentyer has given me excuse after excuse as to why she has not yet produced this floating island picture.  I continued to express my concerns with her floating island theory questioning what the purpose of the gates on each side the island would serve if Lolita could just swim under it.  I sent her additional photographs of the tank drained, the FOIA documents I received and asked her every few weeks since March where was the picture.

Dr. Goldentyer initially told me she wanted to make sure she had all the facts, so she “asked for specific new photos and would be in touch”.  After a few weeks since our conversation, she advised me that she did receive the photos but needed additional information to make sure she had all the relevant information from the appropriate sources.  Then at the end of April, I was told she had the Assistant Regional Director, the Regional Animal Care Specialist and the local inspector working on a response to me. Dr. Goldentyer advised they all wanted to independently confirmed all the information, confirm the information through channels and have a good definitive answer for me. One request for a simple picture turned into several months of getting the run around from Dr. Goldentyer.

While I was waiting for Dr. Goldentyer’s photo & definitive answer, a fellow colleague sent me a letter she received in 1998 from APHIS after she voiced her concern regarding the legality of Lolita’s tank size. The response letter she received from APHIS states:

The minimum horizontal dimension (MHD) requirement is 48 feet; the actual MHD is 80 feet in one direction and 60 feet in the direction interrupted by the platform. We wish to point out that the definition for MHD (AWA Section 1:1) does not preclude the presence of partial obstructions. Therefore, the MHD measurement considerations begins at the pool’s edge and continues beyond the platform.

On May 17, 2011, I sent a copy of this letter to Dr. Goldentyer advising her that I now had 3 different contradicting explanations as to how APHIS found Lolita’s tank to be legally sized.  Just 2 1/2 weeks after sending this letter to Dr. Goldentyer and four months of waiting for a response from her, I received my “definitive answer” from APHIS.

On June 2, 2011, Dr. Goldentyer sent me an email along with an attached letter and diagram. In the email, she wrote:

Thank you for your interest in Miami Seaquarium and for your patience as we reevaluated the issues. I hope that you find the attached letter, diagram, and table helpful. In my letter, several concerns regarding Lolita and Seaquarium are addressed which I include for your information. The diagram and table contain the pool size information which is most pertinent to your concerns. I understand that you may not agree with the agency determination regarding Lolita’s pool, however, we do strive to provide clear consistent information and I am sorry for the confusion.


Betty Goldentyer, DVM


To me, this letter appears to be the new “everything is great” at the Miami Seaquarium response APHIS may intend to use for future complaints as it addresses everything but what I had been waiting for from Dr. Goldentyer….the supposed floating island picture.  The diagram attached with this letter though contained the exact information from last letter I forwarded to Dr. Goldentyer  from my colleague. Upon opening the this last email from Dr. Goldentyer  and reviewing it, it felt like a slap in my face once I realized their “definitive answer”  came from a letter I sent to her weeks before which was dated back to 1998.

APHIS's diagram of Lolita's tank meaurements

In just over a year’s time, I’ve received three different confusing rationale from APHIS justify their allowing the Miami Seaquarium to continue housing Lolita in her illegally undersized tank, without any AWA enforcement action by APHIS.  If APHIS actually “strived to provide the public clear consistent information” as Dr. Goldentyer put it, I would not be in the position I am today which is no further than I was over a year ago except for a paper trail of the misconduct within APHIS.  Dr. Goldentyer provided me no explanation as to why I received various explanations from APHIS except “sorry for the confusion”.

This is what has prompted me to step further than APHIS and contact the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the USDA’s internal auditor that has cited the Eastern Regional Division of APHIS for not enforcing the law, not finding violations, and not assessing fines.  In collaboration with Orca Network, The Orca Project, and a broad range of groups and individuals nationwide, I sent a letter to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on June 6, 2011 requesting an investigation of the failure of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to take enforcement action against these AWA violations:

Lolita’s tank, which is the smallest orca tank in North America, is 13 feet shorter than is required by the Animal Welfare Act (Section 3.104).

– Lolita has no shade to protect her from direct sunlight and no protection from the weather, including hurricanes. Her exposure to sun and weather violates Section 3.103(3)(b) of the Animal Welfare Act.

– Lolita’s pool does not meet the perimeter fence requirements to keep animals and unauthorized people out, nor does it protect her from abuse and harassment by the public. [Sections 3.103(3)(c) and 3.101(2)]

– Lolita has not been in the company of another orca since 1980. This highly social marine mammal is subjected to this solitude in the unfounded belief that her dolphin tank mates are an acceptable replacement for a member of her own species. Only a related family member would be appropriate as Lolita’s companion. [Section 3.109]

The refusal of APHIS to enforce the AWA for Lolita, thus allowing the Miami Seaquarium to maintain its license to keep her in her minuscule sunbaked pool, is especially appalling because Lolita is unique among the captive orcas in North America in her potential to be returned to her orca family in her native waters. Lolita was captured in Puget Sound from the Southern Resident community of orcas, which is the most intensively and comprehensively researched cetacean population worldwide. She is a member of the L pod, and her mother is still alive. This orca community has intense, lifelong matrilineal bonds: the orcas never leave their mothers, forming large family groups with complex social systems. Lolita continues to make the unique calls of her L25 subpod, named for its 82-year-old matriarch. Her family pod still lives in Puget Sound. Because Lolita was old enough at capture to have learned how to catch fish and still speaks her pod’s dialect, there is every reason to believe that she can be successfully reintegrated with her family in Puget Sound. And although at age 44 she is the oldest surviving captive orca in the world, she is still a young, healthy adult; in the wild her potential lifespan will be much longer than it will be in captivity. Cetacean experts have plans in place to retire Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium, reintroduce her safely to Puget Sound, and reintegrate her with her family if she chooses. Otherwise, Lolita would be cared for safely in a baypen in Puget Sound.

I am definitely not the first person that has asked APHIS to enforce the Animal Welfare Act for Lolita nor will I be the last.

Lolita's baypen retirement center on the west side of San Juan Island, Washington. Courtesy of OrcaNetwork

Our friends at The Orca Project and OrcaNetwork have just publicized “Calls For Action” asking the public and media to help us take Lolita’s case to the next level.

The Orca Project – Justice for Lolita. Taking Her Fight with APHIS to the Next Level

OrcaNetwork’s recent press release – Agency Fails to Protect Captive Orca

Hopefully, you will be the next to join in this action, voice your concerns and support the proposed retirement of Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium.

What You Can Do To Help Lolita!

The OIG has a “Hotline” for reporting violations related to USDA programs such as fraud, employee misconduct, mismanagement, conflict of interest, etc. The “Hotline” tips can be submitted online, by email, by phone, by mail. Here’s the link to the OIG’s hotline:

Use these sample letters and email contacts provided by the OrcaNetwork and The Orca Project to send to APHIS

PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO SIGN THIS PETITION created by Hunter Shaffer a 13-year-old disabled activist from New York State who is dedicated to retiring Lolita to her native waters in Washington. Shaffer has gathered over 1,700 signatures on a petition asking APHIS to help “retire Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium, and rehabilitate her in Puget Sound.” Please sign and share widely.

I’d like to give special thanks to Howard & Susan of OrcaNetwork for their dedication to Lolita for so many years.