Wednesday, July 14, 2010


International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute
The David Brower Center
2150 Allston Way, Suite 460
Berkeley, CA 94704



Richard O’Barry, Marine Mammal Specialist
(786) 973-8618 (cell)

David Phillips, Director
(415) 788-3666 x145


The Gulf oil spill caused by oil giant BP is now threatening captive marine mammals, including the orca Lolita, in the Miami Seaquarium of Florida.

Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that there was a “61%-80% chance” of the BP oil spill reaching the Florida Keys, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami by mid-August. Large clumps of weathered tar balls followed by oil-laden currents may be fast approaching, especially due to warmer winds, as a result of Hurricane Alex, among other storms.

Richard O’Barry, former dolphin and orca trainer turned marine mammal activist, and Earth Island Institute expressed deep concern about NOAA’s report, as the quickly advancing pollution may harm and even kill the dozens of captive marine creatures at the Miami Seaquarium.

O’Barry stated: “The spill is a disaster for wild dolphins and whales and now a real threat to captive ones as well.”

The Seaquarium, where O’Barry worked in the 1960’s, uses an open water system, which feeds directly from Biscayne Bay filling its numerous performing animal tanks, including that of Lolita the killer whale (orca). Opponents of captivity for marine mammals have called for Lolita’s retirement and release from her pool at the Seaquarium for years. Captured on August 8, 1970, from Penn Cove, Washington state, and sent down to Florida to perform tricks for tourists, Lolita has resided in what is the smallest and oldest orca tank in the United States. The tank is merely one-and-a-half-times her size, has garnered numerous safety violations, and does not meet US Department of Agriculture regulations.
O’Barry stated: “If the oil enters her pool through the Seaquarium’s aging filtration system from the Bay and makes contact with her sensitive skin, eyes, or enters her blowhole, it would be certain death to her and the other animals in the facility.”

Richard O’Barry, along with Earth Island Institute and many other environmental and animal welfare organizations, are formally requesting the Seaquarium to implement a rescue plan to retire a majority of their animals, including Lolita immediately.

Detailed plans have been in the works for a safe, privately funded retirement plan for Lolita since the 1990s. However, the Seaquarium has repeatedly refused to relinquish Lolita because she was a valuable asset to their park.

While the Seaquarium has already applied for a “3-5 million dollar” claim against BP to install a closed-filtration system, it is unlikely that any new system could be constructed in time for the eight large pools and tanks that would need a new filtration system. General manager Andrew Hertz realizes the situation at hand, telling JustNews Miami, "If I have damages, I've got dead animals that are irreplaceable. I need help on the front end to keep that from happening.”

While environmentalists are offering a humane, quick rescue for the Seaquarium’s animals, it is not clear that the Seaquarium will act in time to protect and save the marine mammals threatened by the approaching oil spill.

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Earth Island Institute works to conserve, protect and restore the Earth’s biological and cultural diversity.

The International Marine Mammal Project works to protect whales, dolphins, and their ocean habitats.

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