by Todd Wright (NBC 6 News Miami)
As SeaWorld parks around the country mourn the death of a trainer killed by a killer whale, local crowds have turned their attention to Miami's resident apex predator/entertainer, Lolita.
The lone killer whale at Miami Seaquarium could become the center of a potential storm brewing between animal activists and the entertainment industry that uses animals to bring in profits.
While information is still sketchy as to what made a 12,000-pound orca turn on its trainer on Wednesday, animal activists have always pointed to the confined accommodations for the large marine mammals as a factor that would inevitably stress the whales to their breaking point.
Lolita lives in a tank about one-tenth the size of those at SeaWorld and has no interaction with other killer whales. She swims in the smallest killer whale tank in North America.
Even Seaquarium officials have said in the past they want to expand the whale tank to make the orca happier, but those efforts have often been rebuffed by city officials.
On Thursday, Robert Rose, Lolita's main trainer, said the attack in Orlando has no bearing on his star attraction or how the park will handle training the large whale. Miami Seaquarium will continue to perform its killer whale shows as it normally would, despite that fact that other parks have canceled their shows in the wake of the tragedy.
Rose also said the size of the tank is not an issue.
"Lolita's happy," he said.
Others think whales like Lolita might be ticking time bombs and that another attack might be unavoidable if the industry doesn't change.
Instead of orcas, Lolita swims with Pacific white-sided dolphins. Not quite the ideal situation for an animal who depends so much on the social structure of a pod in the wild.
And then there is the issue of the perfect killing machine designed for the open ocean being confined to a space the equivalent of a bathtub for a whale, some critics say.
It may be time to start letting these animals return to their natural habitat, said Philippe Cousteau, grandson of famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
"In some cases, there is educational value," he said. "In some cases, facilities make a lot of money off these animals."
First Published: Feb 25, 2010 3:52 PM EST
Read entire article at NBC 6 Miami.