Why MAST Blast should not be held at the Miami Seaquarium

I was appalled when I learned that MAST Blast was going to be held at Miami Seaquarium this year. Miami Seaquarium is known to mistreat and neglect their beautiful sea creatures, specifically the orca Lolita who has been in her tank for 48 years. There are many examples that show how Lolita is neglected, like her lack of companionship, her tiny tank that is below the standard requirements, and the fact that she, along with many other animals, were abandoned during Hurricane Irma. As a marine school, we should not support a business that shows complete disregard towards their animals.


Lolita was caught when she was four years old and violently torn from her mother and the rest of her pod from a capture that resulted in five orcas drowning. Orcas are sociable creatures but Lolita only had one other orca with her in her tank and that was from 1970 to 1980, nearly thirty years ago. That orca was called Hugo and an aneurysm caused by smashing his head into the walls of the tank took his life. Hugo injured himself like this on a regular basis; at one point he severed the tip of his nose. Many say that his death was an act of suicide and ever since he died, Lolita has had no other companion besides two other dolphins that regularly harm her. In 2015 alone, the dolphins scraped Lolita over fifty times with their teeth. How can MAST still support the Seaquarium after they have shown continuous neglect?


Besides the forced solitude Lolita suffers from, she also has to endure living in an abysmal tank that is disgracefully small for her size. She is 21 feet long and weighs over seven thousand pounds. Orcas in the wild can travel 75 to 100 miles a day but in her tank, Lolita cannot even travel one. The tank size also fails to meet the minimum requirements set by the Animal Welfare Act. Lolita’s tank is 35 feet wide, 13 feet shorter than what it is supposed to be. Her tank is the smallest one of any other orca in North America. Consequently, Lolita is often floating listlessly in her tank before and after shows. She has been in her prison for 48 years and not one thing has changed. Why should we support a corporation that does nothing but mistreat their animals for profit?


Furthermore, Miami Seaquarium has no contingency plan for when a hurricane passes through. For instance, during Hurricane Irma, most of their animals were abandoned in their tanks, including Lolita and other dolphins. All Lolita had for protection was a flimsy tin roof that could have easily collapsed on top of her. The glass that makes up her tank could have shattered and sliced her. Debris could have turned into projectiles and severely injured her.


There is also the emotional trauma and stress that comes with going through a hurricane all alone in the dark and not knowing what’s happening. How could someone subject an innocent animal to that? An aquarium in Cuba had the forethought of airlifting their dolphins to safety with a helicopter but the Miami Seaquarium did no such thing, even with their bad experiences with hurricanes in the past. During Hurricane Andrew, five sea lions were electrocuted because of stray wires and several sharks were killed because the pumping system caused their pool to flood. The filtration system is also faulty as shown by drone footage taken right after Irma. Lolita’s tank was murky and it seemed like she was swimming in a cesspool.


All in all, if Miami Seaquarium cannot make a plan to safely evacuate all of their animals, they should not have them in the first place. One day a category five hurricane could come through Florida and the Seaquarium would do the exact same thing as they did in the past; abandon their animals. Only this time it would result in countless and devastating deaths. We, especially as a marine school, cannot support this.


In short, MAST Blast should not be held at Miami Seaquarium this year or any other year because that would be equivalent to saying that we approve of the way they treat their animals. Last year, MAST Blast was held on campus in the field. Many have stated that they had a great time and would love to do it again. Having MAST Blast on the field would also give many other students the ability to attend, creating more school spirit.


I understand this letter was written at such short notice but please take my words into consideration. If MAST Blast cannot be held at the field this year because of poor timing, then it can be held there next year. We cannot continue to hold it at Miami Seaquarium though; something has to change.


Melanie Sztybel


This letter was emailed to Ms. Otero and the activities director on March 4th and I have yet to receive a response.