Miami Seaquarium

Upgrading the cells at San Quentin

Lolita  at the  Miami Seaquarium
 SeaWorld to Upgrade Killer Whale Habitats
The Wall Street Journal

"SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. (SEAS), suffering from negative publicity and flagging attendance, plans to announce on Friday a new expansion of the habitats housing its signature killer whales."

First let's define the word habitat, because saying you are going to upgrade a captive marine mammal's habitat sounds upbeat, doesn't it? Like adding wallpaper to a prisoner's cell at San Quentin or Sing Sing, and putting in a porcelain toilet with a heated seat.

Encarta ® World English Dictionary © defines habitat as:
1.  ecology home environment: the natural conditions and environment in which a plant or animal lives, e.g. forest, desert, wetlands, OR OCEAN.
2.  typical location: the place in which a person or group is usually found -- OR OCEAN.
3.  artificially created environment: a sealed controlled environment in which people OR CAPTIVE ANIMALS can live OR BE KEPT ALIVE in unusual conditions such as under the sea or in space. OR IN A CONCRETE TANK.

"The company is locked in a battle with animal-rights activists, who say that training and publicly performing killer whales is an inherently cruel act. The documentary "Blackfish," which has been screened in cinemas and broadcast multiple times by CNN, raised these criticisms to a higher level of public awareness, and has harmed the company's financial results."

So SeaWorld's solution: Add 15 feet of depth to their pool and 5 million more gallons of water. Happy Whales. And their real motivation? "Investors haven't been kind. SeaWorld shares fell by one-third on Wednesday and are off nearly 50% over the past 12 months. The stock declined another 4.8% to $18 on Thursday."

We can still fix this by not going to SeaWorld or the Miami Seaquarium, now or ever.

Lolita is 21 feet long in a tank that is 23 feet deep. She shares this space with 3 Pacific White-sided dolphins. It has been her habitat for 44 years.

Will it never end??

Pictures and entire storyThis is a picture of Carolina Snowball in 1962. She was captured for the Miami Seaquarium in August of that year off the coast of South Carolina, which subsequently became the first state to ban the capture of marine mammals in their waters.

Carolina Snowball was a huge hit at the Seaquarium until she died in 1965, but they still saw an opportunity to make a buck off her, so they stuffed her and hung her body from the ceiling, and put one of those make-a-mold machines beneath her. When I was researching Dolphin Sky in 1985, she was still hanging there. When I went this year (again for research, which is the only reason I would spend a nickel at the marine mammal hell-hole,) Carolina Snowball's body was gone. I looked online and found the entire story of her capture with amazing photos of that event and her short life at the Seaquarium.
Carolina Snowball, the entire story

Flash forward 52 years to Taiji, Japan's annual round-up and slaughter of dolphins. (See the movie The Cove if you've just arrived from some other planet.) They captured this white dolphin calf. Story below. I don't know what else to say.
Albino Dolphin calf

Taiji slaughter

The Power of Belligerent Thinking

Lolita begging for food
My friend, Norma, sent me this article from the Miami Herald.                                  

Seaquarium for Sale?

In it it says that the activists' lawsuit against Seaquarium had been dismissed. The next day they printed a correction: The lawsuit against Seaquarium has NOT been dismissed by a judge and is ongoing.

Just so you don't miss the line where Arthur Hertz, the owner of the Miami Seaquarium, thumbs his nose at the decades-long struggle to free Lolita, a wild-caught Orca, the Herald quotes him as saying, "the activists’ objections 'are still going on,' but their demands that visitors boycott the Seaquarium has had no effect. 'The public doesn’t care.'"

I took these pictures that day. As you can see, there's not much of an audience even though it included two school buses full of middle school kids. What did this experience teach them? Animal abuse, as long as people enjoy watching and are willing to pay for the privilege, is okay? Imagine what they would have learned if our inhumanity hadn't been on full display.
Lolita's tank for 42 years. It measures 80 X 35 and is a foot deeper than she is long.

Her total focus is food, and she does what she has to do for a reward.

we just need more of them 

It's Me, Me, Me.

Dolphin Show at Miami Seaquarium
As a writer, I get asked all the time what I'm working on. Some writers are reticent to answer. They think it robs the creative energy, or that someone is going to steal their idea. I never worry about either of those things. My creative energy is always in flux, tidal in fact. If it's really low, I find myself totally engrossed in thoughts of the next book, the one on the stove top in the back of my brain. As for anyone stealing the idea--POO. Ideas are a dime or less a dozen. If the idea-thief sat down and started writing today, what that person would produce would be nothing like your story. You can't steal a writer's voice or his/her perspective on a story. Besides, I have a contract and a hundred and fifty page head-start. :-))

When I was in Orlando a couple weeks ago for the Sunshine State Young Readers award, I happily answered that I was working on a story about an autistic child and a dolphin. One hears a lot of apcray (remember your pig latin?) about Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) and the wonders it works for children with disabilities. I can't say that it doesn't help, but it is not a path to a cure for anything. I do believe in therapy with horses (as you might already know.) The difference is dolphins are not meant to be imprisoned in chlorinated, saltwater tanks. They are not meant to be corralled and fed dead fish so that a child with autism can clutch a dorsal fin and go for a ride around their pen. They are one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, and in most cases, far more humane than we are.

All that aside, when I talk about a new book, people want to help. You never know who is going to know someone, or something, that will turn out to be just what you needed. One of the leads I got was about a program in Marco Island, Florida. I sent an email to Capt. Chris Desmond at Dolphin Project and WOW! They have been doing Coastal bottlenose dolphin surveys for years, and have a program that takes the public out to help--especially children. Kind of a mini-Earthwatch. Capt. Chris was immediately on board (excuse the pun) with my project, and has already been a huge help.

Here's my cool award: beautiful glass.bookends that came in a box with a pair of white gloves. My acceptance speech is below.

And then there's this letter from 14 year old, Lauren, of Medford, NJ,. Letters like this are very close to reward enough.

Hello Miss Ginny Rorby,

My name is Lauren, sign name L touched to the right corner of the lips (my deaf friend made the observation that I smiled a lot the first time we signed together). I'm not e-mailing with any book club, or with the intent to arrange a phone-meeting, rather, I just wanted to share a few thoughts with you. I've just finished reading your book "Hurt Go Happy" for the fifth time, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first few times I read it. I wanted to let you know how much I admire your work, and your dedication. Not only that, but your book really kick-started my drive to learn American Sign Language. Being a young teenager, I sway from hobbies a lot. But I always come back to ASL. I don't know a lot, but I'm working on it. I've decided that I want to enter a career field that involves, in some way, sign language and the deaf. I'm looking into teaching in a school for the deaf, or maybe even becoming an interpreter. Now I don't mean to ramble on, I just wanted to share with you the impact that you've made on the way I view many things, and on where I plan to go in my future. Your book has truly touched me, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing with the world this wonderful piece. Thank you.



 SSYRA Acceptance speech

No one could be more surprised or happy to be here than I am.  
I was adopted and grew up in a home with an alcoholic father and a mother trying to control his drinking. I have an amblyopic eye, so between my eyesight and a chaotic home life, I did poorly in school, graduating from Winter Park High School with a C- average and I never got higher than a D in English. 
            However, I hated feeling like a dolt, so I enrolled at the University of Miami when I was 33. I took PSY 101 & detective fiction.  Animals were my single passion so the next semester I took a biology class. When I was 38, I wrote and editorial about an abandoned dog. After it was published, I enrolled in a creative writing class.  
My first short story was about my husband sinking his airboat and having to walk out of the Everglades. I rewrote it for every subsequent class because I couldn’t think of anything else to write. I didn’t really believe I could write, must less that I wanted to. 
I graduated from college with I was 41, with straight As, and finished graduate school when I was 47. My first novel sold when I was 50; at 60, my second book—Hurt Go Happy was published. I’ll be 70 when my 5th is published in the summer of 2015.
I hope I’m an inspiration to young and old alike. To poor students and those with cruddy home lives. I hope I’m an example of the value of an education no matter how long it takes you.  And I hope I’m an encouragement to adults that it’s never too late to start again. I think those of us who create rich lives for ourselves have honed an optimistic spirit & a refusal to listen to the naysayers—especially our own. 
I was asked once how long it took me to write Hurt Go Happy? When I said 18 years, the little girl said, “Oh, that’s too bad, I was hoping to read your next book.” I’m afraid to tell kids that I noodled Lost in the River of Grass for 31 years.
I can’t tell you how honored I am to have IT win this award in my home state—in my home town.  


What's Right for Whales?

Lolita at Seaquarium
Photo by NG
Lolita's tank for 37 years.
Photo by NG

*I don't know why this is double-spaced and couldn't fix it.

I've got great news and bad news. I've been asked by a rather famous publishing company to write (another book) about a dolphin and an autistic child. This is a first for me. Usually, I struggle to come up with an idea, struggle (often for years) to write it, then enjoy numerous rejection letters before finding a publisher, or giving up and putting it on a shelf in the closet with my other failures. To be honest, I hardly know how to act under these circumstances. 


I've been working on this book since April and am getting there. The bad news is I have to visit the Miami Seaquarium to finish up my research.

A portion of Dolphin Sky took place at the Seaquarium. It was a cruddy little place back then. Hugo, the Killer whale, was the star attraction, as was one of the Flippers. Hugo died, so they replaced him with Lolita. (There's a movie about her capture entitled, Lolita.)


A few nights ago CNN showed the new documentary Blackfish, about the Orca that killed his trainer at Sea World in Orlando. I'm begging you to see this movie. 

BLACKFISH is available on Netflix after 11/12/13.     

By Elizabeth Batt
Jun 27, 2013 in Environment

Miami - Time is running out for a solitary orca held at Miami Seaquarium. Lolita, also called Tokitae, was one of the first whales in a brutal roundup that captured orcas for display in marine parks between 1965 and 1973.

Lolita is the last surviving orca of about 45 members of the Southern Resident community who underwent a brutal capture that saw several other orcas perish in the attempt. For more than 40 years, she has resided in a 35-foot tank (many say illegally-sized), at Miami Seaquarium in Florida. Lolita has not seen another orca in more than 30 years. Her once companion orca, Hugo, died after repeatedly hitting his head against the tank walls. Yet in the wild, her mother still lives writes Candace Calloway Whiting at Seattle Pi:

And then, a little more good news:

‘Astonishing’ North Pacific right whale sighting is only the second in 62 years off British Columbia

North Pacific right whale spotted last week off British Columbia. Photo by John Ford
Right Whale

Last previous sighting was a mammal killed by whalers in 1951; it's the most endangered whale species on earth 

Full Story Pacific Right Whale sighting

Drawing of a North Pacific right whale is courtesy of Wikipedia, via NOAA

Why are they called RIGHT WHALES? 
Because of their docile nature, their slow surface-skimming feeding behaviors, their tendencies to stay close to the coast, and their high blubber content (which makes them float when they are killed, and which produced high yields of whale oil), right whales were a preferred target for whalers. Today, the North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world. Wikipedia.