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Freeing Captured Orca Could Be Cruel

Photo credit: Thomas Lipke via Unsplash.

One of my favorite stories in The Little Prince has to do with a fox that the Little Prince tames. When the time comes for the Little Prince to leave him, the fox is very sad. Why? “Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

More than 50 years ago, an orca juvenile was separated from its pod, captured, and sent to the Miami Seaquarium. She has lived her entire life there.

Now, after years of protest pressure, Tokitae — aka Lolita — is to be freed. From the New York Times story:

The killer whale Lolita, which has entertained generations of visitors with colossal leaps and sloppy belly flops that splashed crowds at the Miami Seaquarium, will be returning to her native waters after more than 50 years in captivity, the owner of the marine life aquarium and Miami-Dade County officials said.

The plan to release the orca — also known as Tokitae — is the result of a “binding agreement” among The Dolphin Company, which operates the Seaquarium, Miami-Dade County and animal rights advocates, the company said. The move comes after an outcry from those who complained for years that an animal from the ocean should not be kept in a small tank.

Is this really a kindness? The Seaquarium is the only home Tokitae knows. As the story notes, she can’t fish anymore and will have to be trained to fend for herself. She could starve if training in that regard does not go well. Moreover, orcas are social animals. Lolita could end up alone, not part of a pod, perhaps an object of predation because of her advanced age. (An orca’s life span tops out at about 50 years.)

I understand the motive, but this could be a case of ideology trumping actual animal welfare. And I can’t help thinking of the Little Prince’s fox.

Cross-posted at The Corner.