Hollywood wants to free Lolita

Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford and 50 Cent

A wave of celebrity support from Hollywood could eventually carry Lolita back home to Puget Sound.

Whidbey-based Orca Network has been working for years to bring the killer whale home. She was captured during the infamous killer whale roundups in Penn Cove in the 1970s and for the past 37 years has been performing at the Miami Seaquarium.

Lolita is 20 feet long, weighs 7,000 pounds and lives in a tank that measures 80 feet across at its widest and 20 feet deep.

Efforts to return Lolita to her home have been locally publicized for many years, but now the scale of publicity has been notched up exponentially.

Newsweek magazine on Jan. 23 ran a long story on the plight of Lolita, quoting Howard Garrett, who with Susan Berta founded the Orca Network which they operate out of their Greenbank home.

“This is a big breakthrough,” Garrett said Thursday of the Newsweek coverage. “It’s worldwide now.”

The magazine story cites the growing celebrity involvement in the effort to bring Lolita back to her home waters, crediting the movement to Raul Julia-Levy, a Hollywood producer and son of the late actor Raul Julia. He called Garrett in November and went on to recruit a list of supporters that includes actors Johnny Depp and Harrison Ford and rappers 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg, along with R&B singer Truth Hurts, plus a number of politicians.

Newsweek says Levy is working on a benefit concert that would support the Lolita movement.

“This beautiful animal does not deserve to die in a stinky little tank, and we are not going to take less than a full victory,” Levy told Newsweek.

Garrett said it’s too early to announce any particular concert plans but admitted that “we’re working on it.”

“Momentum is building,” he said. “A publicity campaign is in the works being directed by people in Hollywood.”

Garrett wasn’t entirely thrilled by the Newsweek article, saying it might lead the reader to believe that Lolita could be better off at the Seaquarium, where she has lived for so many years.

“The idea that she’s habituated, that she’d be totally out of her element if she were brought back, ignores the intelligence of the species and their family bonding for life,” he said.

Another killer whale, Keiko of “Free Willy” fame, was released back into the wild and eventually died in Norway for unclear reasons. Garrett said not enough was known about Keiko’s family, while Lolita’s family remains in the Puget Sound area and would likely welcome here back.

Years ago, the plan for Lolita was to bring her back to Penn Cove to acclimate to Puget Sound, but Garrett said that has changed. Now, she would be placed in the waters of San Juan Island’s Kanaka Bay, which was used to hold killer whales during the roundup days. Several were held there before they were released, and the eyebolts are still in the rocks which allow a net to be strung across the entry to the small bay.

Garrett envisions Lolita staying there in the friendly company of her trainers and staff from the Seaquarium, until she is comfortable in her home surroundings.

“It could take weeks or months,” he said.

The Seaquarium owners have always refused to negotiate the release of the whale. But until now they haven’t had to deal with the likes of Johnny Depp and 50 Cent.