Black and White and Blue...

Trip Start May 22, 2010
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16
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Trip End Jun 28, 2010


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Flag of United States  , Florida
Monday, June 7, 2010



Washington might have been hot, but Miami was something else entirely. My clothes stuck to me, and sweat dripped from every single part of me.

Heavy clouds moved across the sky every now and then, obscuring the sun. There was no relief in that shade though – there is no escape from the humidity in Miami. Even the ocean there feels more like a lukewarm bath.

The Seaquarium has seen better days. The black asphalt paths meander through the park, cracked and releasing steam, like coals in a sauna. The awnings that cover some of these paths are made from heavy concrete on rusty old poles.

It's a park that’s privately owned, and I have to wonder how much of their budget goes to facility maintenance. Looking around at the faded paintwork, I think I can guess.

But there are attractions to the park also .The park is a big player in the rehabilitation of injured Manatees, and the Manatees are one of the animals we made the very expensive cab ride out to see.

The viewing tank was full of lettuce leaves and carrots, which seemed strange, but I quickly learnt that these foods are nutritionally close to what the creatures would eat in the wild.

The Manatees themselves surprised me with their size. They float lazily just under the surface of the water, munching occasionally on a lettuce leaf that crosses their path. They propel themselves with a giant paddle-like rear fin.

Manatees are a highly endangered species, which is strange considering they have no natural predators – the biggest predator in their waters is the Tiger Shark, and because Manatees are slightly larger than a Tiger Shark, they tend to leave them alone. The reason for their endangered status is man. They do feed close to the surface, and are often injured and killed by motor boats. In fact, one of the permanent Manatees in the exhibit was so badly injured that her paddle is totally deformed, meaning she could never be released back into the wild.

Manatees also suffer severely from cold stress – occurring when the water they find themselves in slips below a certain temperature. It’s an illness not dissimilar to hypothermia, and the Miami Seaquarium often brings in Manatees suffering from cold stress. There is nothing they can do for these critters apart from holding them in tanks of warm water until the ocean returns to a temperature that the Manatees can handle.

I was touched to hear that a private entity was so actively involved in rescue and rehabilitation of these strange looking animals. In fact, they are responsible for a majority of the injured Manatee rescues in the Miami area.

The Manatees were not the only attraction I had travelled to see. Of course like any good ocean park, there were the obligatory dolphin and sea lion shows. I have seen some very impressive dolphin shows before, but this one had a difference. The dolphins actually hit some large inflated balls right out of the viewing stadium – over the roof and into the garden behind. I have seen dolphins jump, do somersaults, carry human passengers, but I have never seen a dolphin hit a six before.

The Sea Lions were fascinating, and more entertaining than the dolphins, with a show that educated the younger audience members about the importance of protecting coral reefs from pollution. The Sea Lions played the park of the wildlife rangers, searching for the missing conch shell that a careless diver had stolen from the reef, leaving a trail of trash in her wake.

But again the Sea Lions were only a precursor to the main attraction of the park.

Lolita is an almost forty year old killer whale, captured in the seventies from her family in Puget Sound. She has lived her entire adult life in a tiny tank in Miami Seaquarium.

It was with mixed feelings that I entered the arena. I was at once excited to see a killer whale up close (and when I say close, I really mean it – you could literally reach out and touch her if you wanted to), and absolutely disgusted to see the size of her tank. It was smaller than the tanks for the dolphins. She could barely turn around in it.

I hadn’t heard much about her, only knowing that the Seaquarium had a Killer Whale. There hadn't been much on the website advertising this very large attraction. I wonder now if that is because there are a lot of activists out there who are actively compaigning for the retirement of Lolita and other Killer Whales around the world like her. 

Admittedly her show was spectacular, and the selfish part of me was glad to have been able to see it. But that part was much smaller for me than the part that was crying out at the unfairness of her capture, and her imprisonment.

I left the performance with tears streaming from my eyes. To many, the wetness on my face would have seemed like splash from the leaping antics of Lolita, or perhaps mere perspiration – we were in Miami, after all. But I knew the truth – those tears were for the beautiful creature trapped in a space not much bigger than my living room.

It has been almost two weeks now since our time in Miami, and the more I think about it, and the more I read about Lolita and other Orcas in her situation, the more I regret purchasing the ticket for the park, and inadvertently supporting their torture of a beautiful, innocent creature. It seems strange to me that an entity that on one hand is so devoted to rehabilitating the endangered Manatee population, could be so callously exploiting Lolita.

I suppose it is a lesson learned, and I don’t think I could have appreciated just how strongly I would feel about it if I hadn’t seen for myself first-hand just how these animals are kept in captivity.

The day was memorable for me because it almost tore me in two – I feel lucky to have seen one of these magnificent creatures up so close, but I feel sickened to know how Lolita is suffering for my selfish desire.
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Comments

Juzzi on

That's why I love it when I hear that a killer wale has killed it's trainer now all we need to do is get them to eat a member of the public ( preferbly a small child ) and they would have to release them it's a liability . Anyone willing to donate the small child ??? It's for a good cause !!!

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