Germantown Academy students trying to rescue Lolita are, from left, Madison Press, Evvan Erb, Jess Sender and Quinton Richie.

by Sally Cohen and Len Lear

Gwynedd Valley local animal welfare group 22 Reasons, founded by former longtime Chestnut Hill resident Gigi Glendinning, has begun an innovative art-humane-education project in the Philadelphia-area schools, enlisting young people to paint massive, life-sized murals of the killer whale Lolita (a.k.a. Tokitae).

Lolita was taken from her family off the coast of Washington state 43 years ago and sent to perform in a tiny pool — illegal by today’s Animal Welfare Act standards — at the Miami Seaquarium, where she lives to this day.

“I wanted the students to get a sense of the actual size of an orca so I decided to create a 22’ x 9’ template for each school to paint,” said Glendinning. “With every animal story that we share, we offer a specific action kids can take on behalf of that animal. Signing the life-size mural and writing their thoughts about her situation is the perfect way for students to voice their concerns and desire to help Lolita.”

These murals, de facto “visual petitions,” are cathartic for the kids and become beautiful art work. 22reasons will take this “whale of a show” on the road, for public display, throughout the Greater Philadelphia-area, this summer.

The citywide effort is timed with two lawsuits aimed at freeing Lolita and returning her to the Pacific. The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed the suits, and the non-profit Orca Network devised detailed plans on moving Lolita to a sea pen for rehabilitation. Most experts agree that Lolita is a prime candidate for release because she could eventually be reunited with her family, a pod that has been, and will continue to be, monitored daily by The Center for Whale Research.

After hearing Lolita’s story, students at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington took it upon themselves to apply what they learned in history class to better understand the legal efforts that advocates are now taking to boost Lolita’s case. The preliminary decisions could come before the end of May, ALDF representatives say.

“Our students wondered why there was a lack of enforcement of existing regulations for the treatment of whales in captivity,” said GA history teacher Bayard Templeton. “The USDA is supposed to enforce those laws. Students learned that advocates for Lolita’s freedom launched letter-writing campaigns to members of the executive branch, and also approached the judicial branch, suing the government to enforce regulations on the books.”

Glendinning asked the students what they would tell the judge if they were Lolita’s “attorney” in court.

“If your job is to support/enforce the laws, why are you violating your own laws? The best pace for this whale is back with her family, and man took her out of her natural environment. It is up to man to put her back where she belongs,” replied Quinton Richie.

“How would you feel if you were separated from your family and put in a bathtub all alone?” asked Madison Press.

22reasons also invited the public to paint a life-size Lolita (about 22 feet long) mural on May 5 at the Chestnut Hill Garden Festival. More details on all events are on the 22reasons Facebook page.

22reasons is a non-profit humane education organization teaching compassion and reverence for all animals.

“Sunday at the Garden Festival was a giant success!” insisted Gigi. “We had gobs of people learning Lolita’s story and signing in support of her release from the tank. Compassion for animals was overflowing.”

Founder Gigi Glendinning, 45, is a member of a quintessential Chestnut Hill family. She and her brother, Andrew (now a Lafayette Hill contractor with three children); her sister, Ellen (now a freelance accountant in Lafayette Hill with two children); and her brother, Bruce (now a Sr.Vice President/Regional Manager for Prudential Fox and Roach, living in Flourtown with two children); all grew up in Chestnut Hill with their mom, Sandra, now a resident of The Hill at Whitemarsh; and their late father, Robert, a prominent realtor with an office on Evergreen Avenue (and frequent contributor to the Local).

They lived successively in houses on Prospect Avenue, then St. Martin’s Lane, then Auburn Avenue in Wyndmoor and finally, in a Woodward house on Mermaid Lane. Both sons went to Chestnut Hill Academy, and both daughters went to Springside School.

“My dad never went to college himself,” said Gigi, “but he provided us all with great educations. We were very lucky. By buying and then selling the houses we lived in, that’s how he paid for all of our college tuitions.” (Robert Glendinning died at 75 in 2009 of Alzheimer’s Disease.)

For information or to get involved, contact or 215-591-0338.