"The intention was to keep it under 10 minutes so it could be spread via social media and a good amount of information could be disseminated in a fairly short amount of time," Azarian told The Dodo.
Azarian first heard about Lolita shortly after the 2010 death of SeaWorld Orlando orca trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. "I never really had given orcas much thought, but the story hit the news and made me curious, so I searched online and learned the plight of Lolita, which simply broke my heart."
Lolita's story has broken many hearts.
In August 1970, at just four years of age, Lolita, who was initially named Tokitae, which means "nice day" in the Coastal Salish Indian language, was captured during the infamous Penn Cove roundup. Some 80 whales, comprising nearly every member of the Southern Resident orca community, were ensnared. Most were released, but seven youngsters, including Tokitae, were sold to aquariums around the world. She is the only living captive who survived that roundup.
Tokitae was sent to Miami, renamed Lolita and put in the Seaquarium's small pool as a playmate for a young orca named Hugo, who was taken from Puget Sound in 1968. Hugo would often send high-pitched shrieks across the aquarium grounds, and repeatedly banged his head on the tank wall. One time he broke a viewing window and sliced off the tip of his rostrum on a glass shard.
The two whales performed together for ten years, until March 1980, when Hugo slammed his head into the wall for the last time. A bottlenose dolphin then became Lolita's only animal companion.
Not long after hearing about her story, Azarian met Dr. Ingrid Visser, a killer whale scientist who heads New Zealand's Orca Research Trust and is a world-renowned anti-captivity advocate.
"I'd never met her in person - I had never seen an orca for that matter - and she graciously asked if I would join her on her trip," Azarian said. "We decided to film her visit, simply to document and have a record of it."
One noteworthy aspect of their footage was clear evidence that Seaquarium was in violation of OSHA regulations regarding trainers and their proximity to orca tanks - the film shows one trainer in the water and "riding" Lolita for performance. Last July, OSHA ordered the Seaquarium to prevent its trainers from "wet work and dry work performances" in the pool and the facility had to pay a fine of $7,000.
About a month after filming, Azarian reviewed the footage of Lolita floating alone in her pool. "I didn't feel sadness. I didn't feel emotion. I felt dead," he said. "Lolita was just bobbing there, and appeared to be so out of it. I realized we had something potentially very powerful and at the same time very simple on our hands."