Lolita’s fate could become linked to Gulf disaster

I woke up this morning listening to radio reporter Greg Allen’s story about Miami Seaquarium on National Public Radio. My competitive side immediately wondered how his story would fit in with my story about the Seaquarium, published in today’s Kitsap Sun.

The aquarium in Miami has been getting some local publicity lately after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that weathered oil has a pretty good chance of catching the Loop Current and making it all the way to Miami’s Biscayne Bay on the eastern shore of Florida.

Greg Allen got a stronger quote than I from general manager Andrew Hertz: “We pull our water for our animals straight out of the bay. And we filter it and we give them clean water. But the quality of our water is only as good as the quality of the bay.”

A new filtration system installed over the past five years apparently would not be enough to prevent serious illness or death to the animals in the aquarium.

What Allen failed to bring up in his report was the growing concern for Lolita, the killer whale, as well as numerous other marine mammals housed in the aquarium. As I point out in my story, folks like Howard Garrett of Orca Network and Ric O’Barry of “The Cove” are raising alarms about the dangers of oil and declaring that it is time to bring Lolita back to her original home in Puget Sound.

Hertz said he will do what it takes to protect animals in the aquarium, and his staff is working on a contingency plan, which may involve financial support from BP. But how quickly can something be built? I guess we’ll have to wait to see the specific plans.

Meanwhile, local biologists have put together a draft plan for returning Lolita to Puget Sound, if circumstances allow. The plan was developed a number of years ago and might need to be updated. But if this oil spill fails to stir up enough action to move Lolita, it seems highly unlikely that she will ever return to Puget Sound.

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