"Cetaceans are a bridge between mankind and the natural world – their intelligence is both powerful and relatable. Throughout human history, cetaceans have had a powerful imprint. In ancient Greece it was punishable by death to harm dolphins. I believe that if we can respect cetaceans – and learn from them instead of controlling and enslaving them – then we can awaken and reconnect with the natural world. "
Several months after I attended my first protest, I became really depressed and one night I even had thoughts of suicide. All the suffering, all the pain we had inflicted on the world along with a couple other things had gotten to me and I was at the lowest point in my life.
On the way home from school one day, the sky was completely gray – not a hint of the sun was visible. I thought about Lolita while I slumped over in my seat on the school bus. The lack of sun got me thinking about how she is separated from her presumed mother, Ocean Sun.
I stared out of the bus window, trying to hide my tears. As the bus came to a halt at my stop, I remembered all of the hardships Lolita has endured. How she must feel after losing her tankmate (and podmate) Hugo when he bashed his head in several years after their capture. I'm sure she has gone through fear, anger and pain many times. And yet she has been able to find love and hope in the darkest of nights, surviving longer than any of her kind in captivity.
It's just incredible how anyone can overcome such grief, suffering, and hopelessness. After Lolita was captured 44 years ago, I'm sure those images of being driven through the inlets of Puget Sound and of her mother screaming her name raced through her mind. Cetaceans have such a high ability to feel emotions, due to a much larger paralimbic system (the part of the brain that processes emotions) than our own. They also have tight social bonds, so with these two things combined it's safe to say that she felt immense trauma, far more powerful than what probably any of us here have felt.
But even though Lolita calls to her family only to hear her screams echoing back; even though she is over 3,000 miles away, trapped in an illegally sized concrete bathtub; and even though these memories still linger in the depths of her mind, her family has never been gone. And I think she knows this. The beautiful thing about love is that it transcends borders, time, and hope. Like the stars and moon that shine above her every night, Lolita's family is still shining behind the clouds. When Lolita looks at the sky from her puny tank, I'm sure she feels her mother still guiding her, still loving her. Maybe she even has the capability to telepathically communicate with her family or leave her physical body and astro-travel back home. But regardless, those we love are never gone. By knowing this, Lolita has been able to overcome her grief and keep the will to fight. Drone footage of her recently revealed this; she actively swims around her tank in between shows, unlike most of her kind who log on the surface.
In addition to overcoming her grief, I believe that Lolita is beyond hope – not that she has given up on it – but simply that she realizes it only breaches the surface. I'm sure there have been instances where Lolita has felt like giving up, where there was no hope, where maybe she even considered suicide. Cetaceans have the ability to end their life whenever they want – their breathing, unlike ours, is manual. But Lolita chose to keep living. Although I'm sure she has the hope of returning home, she doesn't let it control her thoughts. Hope can play a wicked game with the mind, enslaving the beholder into believing anything, ensnaring her in a web of lies and emotions, and obscuring her from love due to her obsession with hope. Lolita has probably gone through this...we all have. But she has learned to let love guide her instead of the unstable path of hope. Even when hope is gone, when clouds consume the sky, love still shines. Lolita's love for her family, and the love from her family, keep her going even when hope has abandoned her. This is why she has fought all these years, why she has been able to remain strong. Love always wins. It's in the history books, in our favorite novels and movies.
But we must remember that it matters not if we win, but how we win. We haven't reconstructed the world right from eras of slavery and needless wars. I believe this is why Lolita – and cetaceans in general – rarely harm or attack us. Sure, they could kill their trainers, or those who are capturing and murdering them, but would that really solve the problem? What lesson would we learn? We would only fear cetaceans, and our connection with them would be destroyed even more.
Cetaceans are a bridge between mankind and the natural world – their intelligence is both powerful and relatable. Throughout human history, cetaceans have had a powerful imprint. In ancient Greece it was punishable by death to harm dolphins. I believe that if we can respect cetaceans – and learn from them instead of controlling and enslaving them – then we can awaken and reconnect with the natural world. That is why evil is trying to eradicate and dominate them – it is afraid. And it should be. Look how many of us are gathered here today, fighting for Lolita and all cetaceans. Look how many of us have been moved and inspired by cetaceans without the need to see them perform a bunch of silly tricks for our amusement. Look how many of us are awake. If I had not seen those dolphins in Hawaii, or connected with that dolphin at SeaWorld when I tricked him, I would at least not be as involved as I am now. Maybe cetaceans let themselves be placed in captivity to teach us things that we could not learn on our own. It's horrible that it's taken so much suffering for us to finally understand, but none of their pain has been in vain.
Lolita's suffering has not been in vain, although she may have thought it at one point. None of us are invincible. We all cry. We all mourn. We all feel. But with love, we are unbreakable. And unbreakable Lolita has remained the past 44 years. Despite her suffering, she has remained courageous yet gentle – true to her original name – Tokitae. True strength and courage is not lacking fear or weakness, but pushing through in spite of them, conquering them. Lolita has done this, and it hasn't gone unnoticed.
Look back to the Miracle March for Lolita on January 17, 2015. Over 1000 people, including myself, gathered for the largest march about a captive cetacean in history! The spiritual energy we all experienced that day must and will ignite change for not only Lolita and her kin, but also in many different microcosms. Cetaceans, as I said earlier, are a bridge to the natural world. If we rebuild this bridge, then it will be much easier to defend nature and therefore heal our souls. We are a part of nature, a part of the universe, a part of God. By destroying nature, we are only destroying ourselves. By connecting with it – as we all have with Lolita – we heal ourselves.
With all of these things in mind, I will now bring you back to the moments when I stepped off of the bus in 9th grade.
I looked at the darkened sky from the dirty window, letting out a sigh. The doors shot open with a muffled pop. I stumbled out, wiping tears off of my face, and started to trudge home. As I cried and stepped onto the trail that led to my house, a crystal-clear “T” cut a hole in the clouds. The rays of the sun pierced through this hole, the only light to break through. A chill ran down my spine, and I erupted into tears. I felt Lolita's suffering, but also her strength and resilience. Visions of her family swam through my mind. I was suddenly filled with energy again. It made me remember what I was fighting for, what I love, and why I am here. I took the “T” as a symbol for Tokitae (Lolita's original name), which is a Coast Salish greeting with the meaning “nice day, pretty colors.”
I'm willing to consider that Lolita spiritually communicated with me. A week before, I went to the beach and wrote a poem in the sand right next to the waves for Lolita. It expressed my sadness and hopelessness, but also my love and determination to bring change. As the waves washed away my words, I asked the ocean to deliver them to Lolita. I believe there are more powerful ways of communicating than simply speaking. Love, again, transcends borders and time. Maybe the “T” cut into the clouds was her response to my message.
After that, I've had many dreams and visions about Lolita. In the first and most powerful one, I was swimming next to her and her mother. It was so clean, so crisp, so vibrant, so free. Then it all changed. We were chased by boats and Lolita and I were captured. She looked me in the eye and I screamed. Then it faded to black. That dream repeats in my mind every day, as I'm sure Lolita experiences with her actual memories.
The most recent dream was just a few days before today. It was very similar to the first part of the dream I just described. Lolita and her mother swam right next to each other and I could feel the waves caressing my skin. I felt both of their emotions and understood what they were saying.
In another dream, Lolita was being released and a bunch of trainers were trying to stop the process. Several dolphins were in the water with her. But they were all set free. They swam under a crumbling bridge to the open ocean. Just before Lolita swam past it, she nudged me in the water and I gave her a hug. She carried me past the bridge. Then she swam off, free at last.
This dream, while not as powerful as the first one I had, had the most meaning to me. Throughout all of my dreams about her there is one thing that's always been repeated: I've embraced or hugged her in some way. To me, this symbolizes not only my care and passion to protect cetaceans, but the reconnection with nature. The bridge above us represents the deterioration of nature, but after I embraced Lolita, we both survived and she regained her freedom. As I said before: we need to rebuild our connection with the natural world. Perhaps the dream was a foreshadowing of this march.
By swimming through these dreams and experiencing depression, I learned that it's okay to feel anger, fear, and pain as long as they don't control you. Emotions are only natural...why force them when you can let them go?
Love, like the waves, washes away those emotions and leaves you stronger than ever. My love for the ocean, for Lolita and all cetaceans, along with all those who love me will always allow me to rise above the coldest, darkest winter's night. Love is beyond hope, beyond borders, beyond false dualities, beyond time. With love, I believe two souls can find each other in the chaos that man has wreaked upon the world. With love, I believe we can rebuild that bridge and heal ourselves.
Lolita's unconditional love, along with her mother's love, has taught our species a valuable lesson. Sadly, many still need to hear it. Life is a storm whose winds toss us back and forth at different speeds, but, “life isn't about waiting for the storm to end. It's about learning how to dance in the rain” (Vivian Greene).
Lolita deserves to be retired after enduring suffering, greed, and loneliness throughout the majority of her life. She has taught the world through her perseverance that one can push through the most horrible of calamities and emerge stronger than ever. Her suffering has not been in vain; through her grace and love, she has awakened us. The sun, no matter how long the clouds may reign in the sky, will eventually pierce through and enrich the world in its warmth. It is time for the rest of our species to awaken and blow these clouds away. The choice is ours alone.
My next blog post in this series will be about my recent endeavors as an activist.