47 years ago, Lolita the killer whale was captured from the wild. It's high time for her to return to it, according to more than 40 protesters who gathered outside Miami Seaquarium Tuesday afternoon.
"Turn around! Don't buy a ticket!," they yelled at passing SUVs and tourist busses as visitors turned into the parking lot. Wide-eyed, some drivers slowed down to accept a flier or read the signs ("Thanks, but NO TANKS"). Most rolled forward past the protesters to pay the $10 parking fee.
Concerns for Lolita include isolation, separation from her whale family, and her inability to swim freely for long distances. Protesters regularly gather outside the Miami Seaquarium.
"I can relate to being completely isolated," said activist Chris Lagergren, 47, who held a megaphone and wore a Lolita t-shirt. When he was a teenager, he spent a few months in jail. "You don't get to do anything. Everything is on their schedule. They tell you when you're going to eat. They tell you when you're going to go out. So it's very similar."
Since the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which follows the Sea World orca Tilikum, there has been heightened scrutiny of the lives of large marine animals in captivity.
Animal rights group PETA is involved in a lawsuit against the Seaquarium, and organized Tuesday's protest. "What we'd like to see happen is for her to be retired to a sea sanctuary where she can feel the ocean around her," said PETA campaign specialist Matt Bruce. He's based in California and traveled to South Florida for the protest.
Miami Seaquarium representatives say Lolita may not be able to adjust to such a drastic change in her living situation.
"Lolita the killer whale is healthy and thriving," said park general manager Andrew Hertz in a statement responding to the protests. According to Hertz, there isn't evidence the whale would be successful in another environment.
"Lolita will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium," he said.
This post has been corrected to reflect the protest happened on Tuesday afternoon. Originally, it said the protest happened Wednesday afternoon. We regret the error.