Editorial: Lolita gets a big boost

The long-stalled effort to bring Lolita home to the waters of Puget Sound has received a boost from, of all places, Hollywood.

Whidbey Island’s Orca Network organization is now working with Hollywood producers and stars to begin publicizing the plight of Lolita and raising money to bring her back to the waters of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.

Lolita, of course, is the last survivor of the notorious Penn Cove killer whale roundups of the 1970s. For some 37 years she’s been kept captive at the Miami Seaquirium where she entertains tourists for fish.

It’s hard to avoid anthropomorphism when discussing Lolita. Does an animal, no matter how bright, really miss her family back home? Is she pining for her relatives, unable to plot an escape from her concrete, water-filled pen? Would she readily give up her easy meals and warm Florida bathwater for one last taste of freedom in the chilly waters of Puget Sound, where she would have to feed herself by chasing Chinook salmon?

Tempting as it is to put human thoughts into the mind of an animal, it’s best to view the situation objectively. Base the salvation of Lolita on science, not emotion.

Orca scientists in the Puget Sound area seem united that bringing Lolita back home would be a good thing. It would bring back a valuable member to a pod of whales now considered an endangered species. A whale kept cooped up like a trained chicken would be free to rejoin her pod, swim with her own kind, and add one individual to the population — no small thing as the pod’s numbers have been growing in recent years, but very slowly. Lolita is middle-aged for a whale and could be a valuable member of the pod for many years to come.

The Orca Network has long been on the right track in trying to bring Lolita back. That goal looks more achievable than ever with Hollywood star power behind it. Already signed on as interested in helping are Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford and 50 Cent, among others. They’re capable of making the plight of Lolita a national story and raising whatever money it takes to bring her home.

Scientific minds are already planning how best to reintroduce Lolita to her home waters. It will be done slowly, meticulously, and under expert supervision. It’s certainly worth the effort. It will be a great day on Whidbey Island when Lolita comes home. We never thought we’d be saying this, but good luck, 50 Cent!

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