Message from Seattle to Miami: Give us back our whale. Seattle wants Lolita, star of the Miami Seaquarium tourist attraction for the past 31 years and the nation’s longest-performing killer whale. More than 5,000 people have signed petitions and hundreds of children have scrawled crayon drawings in protest. They are urging a resistant Arthur Hertz—chairman of the Seaquarium’s parent company, Wometco Enterprises of Coral Gables, Florida—to return his graceful money-maker to Washington’s Puget Sound, where she was captured in 1970 at age six.
To Miami, Lolita is a leaping crowd-pleaser. But to Seattle, Lolita is a potential savior of a Pacific Northwest symbol. The number of wild orcas in Puget Sound has plummeted from 98 to 80 in just six years, due to three presumed reasons—a lack of salmon to eat, a buildup of PCBs in their bodies from spending decades in toxic waters, and stress from being viewed too closely by motorboaters. Healthy Lolita, at age 37, is young enough by wild orca standards to mother a few calves—boosting hopes for the dwindling population.