Campaign to free captive killer whales grows

A campaign to free captive orca killer whales is growing, with Miami Seaquarium's star Lolita as its focus.

The majestic orca killer whale Lolita has been wowing crowds at the Miami Seaquarium in the United States for over 40 years.

But while tourists lap up her playful show, animal rights protesters say she's deeply distressed and needs to be returned to the wild.

On tonight’s Dateline at 9.30pm on SBS ONE, Nick Lazaredes follows the growing campaign focused around Lolita to see orcas freed from captivity.

"This animal Lolita has been living in this little chlorinated cement prison for more than 40 years," one of the protesters tells Nick.

"This animal was kidnapped, taken against her will, under a struggle of life and death," he says of the huge operation to capture her off the US Pacific coast in 1970, which left four other orcas dead.

The issue is also the subject of the documentary film, Blackfish, to be released in Australia this month, looking at the killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau by an angry orca at Seaworld in Orlando.

"I think Lolita definitely tugs everybody's heart strings," says director Gabriela Cowperthwaite. "Her mother is actually there in the Puget Sound and they actually recognise each other's vocalisations."

"How amazing would it be after all these decades to actually put Lolita back with her original pod."

But while campaigners are already making such plans for Lolita to be reunited with her family, is there any hope of seaquariums setting their most lucrative attractions free?

SBS Dateline reporter Nick Lazaredes spoke to Darren Mara from SBS World News Australia Radio about his story and the levels of stress orcas are under when performing in captivity.

Use the audio tab above to listen to the interview, and watch the full story on tonight's Dateline at 9.30pm on SBS ONE.

Source: SBS