LOLITA, a captive orca at the Miami Seaquarium, has called the park home since the 1970s.
Despite this, the six-metre killer whale was abandoned in her uncovered tank, alongside several dolphins, as Hurricane Irma bore down on the Florida coastline.
The category four hurricane tore through America’s Sunshine State, ripping roofs of homes, flooding the streets, cutting power and inciting an evacuation of 5.6 million people. The death toll in the US currently stands at 22, and is expected to rise.
The aquarium was deemed particularly vulnerable due to it’s location on Virginia Key, a barrier island off the coast of Miami.
While Miami Seaquarium has since confirmed the animals survived the storm, there has been no further word on their condition.
The park has been slammed for its actions, considering an aquarium in Cuba flew their dolphins to safety before Irma made landfall.
Jeffrey Ventre, a former SeaWorld trainer who advocates against orca captivity, took to Twitter to point out the park’s hypocrisy.
“Despite the talk of #Blackfish Lolita being ‘family’ the @MiamiSeaquarium has shown its true colours. She is left alone to ride out #Irma,” he said.
“The threats to exposed captive killer whales include missile injuries, blunt force trauma, stress, and foreign objects in the pool, which can be swallowed.
“In nature, the whales can ride out storms, spending their time predominantly below the surface and at greater depths.”
In a statement addressing why they didn’t transport their animals to safety, the park said: “Miami Seaquarium has been at its present location since 1955 and it has withstood its fair share of storms. The park has an experienced and dedicated team working diligently to ensure our animals are safe. In preparation for the possible effects of Hurricane Irma, Miami Seaquarium has implemented its Hurricane Preparation Procedures. These protocols, which are constantly updated, clearly detail the necessary animal safety and precautionary measures to be implemented at the park. You can monitor our social channels for all updates regarding the park.”
While evacuating an orca is a hard task, the act of leaving Lolita to her fate has reignited the debate about whether the magnificent creatures should be kept in captivity at all.
Do you think orcas and dolphins should be kept in captivity? Continue the conversation in the comments below or with Raffaella Ciccarelli on Twitter.