Zach Affolter

Through his activism, writing, and video productions, Zach hopes to spread awareness about important issues, educate people about how beautiful nature is and why it needs to be protected.


Zach’s short film premiered at Phinfest on March 14, 2015,  it tells the story of Tokitae (known by most as Lolita), a captive orca held  for the past 45 years in an illegally sized tank at the Miami Seaquarium.

“Since the day that the historic Miracle March for Lolita took place on January 17th, I have been working on a film that captures the inspiration of Tokitae’s story through poetry, dialogue, song, and visual expressions. After she was captured 44 years ago, concrete walls trapped her inside an illegally sized tank in which she is longer than it is deep. She was given the stage name Lolita. Theme park music blasted as she leaped in the sky only to be clutched by gravity, whose merciless hands threw her back into the tank. Water exploded into the air. People cheered, unaware of her brutal capture just days before. And there Lolita has remained the past 44 years.

When I filmed her in the Miami Seaquarium the day after the march, I noticed some interesting patterns in Lolita’s behavior. She would come up to people after shows and try to interact with them, as if she was trying to get them to understand. After a few minutes, she turned her back on them and swam away. I captured this behavior in my film, where Lolita despairs in the fact that nobody seems to care.

The most heartbreaking scenes that I filmed were the last ones I recorded when the stadium was empty. Only when people see what goes on after the show can they understand how much suffering captive cetaceans endure. Lolita has circled alone around the same concrete walls for 44 years. She can never see the sun rise or set and never feel or taste the ocean. She is deprived the very things that define us – freedom, family, and love. All she sees are blank stares from people who are fighting to get the perfect spot for taking a photo.

The film was inspired from Tokitae’s name itself, which means ‘nice day, pretty colors’ in Coast Salish. If people can look at her suffering and understand what she endured, they will in turn be able to understand why it is so wrong to keep these sentient creatures in captivity, why it is so important to respect nature, and how we can find light in the darkest of times.

It is also inspired by my own struggle to overcome depression. One day I considered suicide but I thought of Tokitae and how she overcame everything. As I was walking home from school, a few rays of the sun broke through the clouds and I felt all of my sadness wash away.

Although the film is about Tokitae and her story, it captures what many of us endure. We all get depressed, we all fall down. But it’s how we respond that matters. Even when the sky is black and there is no hope, love is far more powerful and, as Tokitae’s mother says in the film, cannot be destroyed.”

Breaking Through The Clouds brings viewers into Lolita’s deep memories and feelings of life with her mother, with her family in their natural world of swirling undersea wonders and delights, all starkly contrasted against the bleak walls of her cell in Miami. The film produces profound empathy and understanding of Lolita’s plight, and honors her in the telling of her story. – Howard Garrett of Orca Network
Lolita and her mother singing by Nathaly Lauren

Moonbeams and starlight
shine in the night sky,
don’t cry.

Moonbeams and starlight
dance in the night sky,
glimmering and shimmering by.

Moonbeams and starlight
Ocean and Sky
sometimes grow sad,
grow sad and cry.

Sky’s tears create ripples in the sea
that grow and grow
into waves that pound on the shores,
oh hear them roar.

Moonbeams and starlight
shine in the night sky,
glowing in the night.

Moonbeams and starlight
Ocean and Sky
sometimes grow sad,
but the stars still shine.

They flicker and dance,
shining their love and light to guide you,
as I do.

Moonbeams and starlight
shine brightest in the night sky,
don’t cry.

Come fly away.

(c) Zach Affolter 2015

Painting by Lolita and her mother singing by Nathaly Lauren

A Short Bio

Zach is studying marine biology at Humboldt State University, California. He is also a Youth Ambassador at Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project.

Zach gained international notoriety when the Westview High junior in Rancho Penasquitos collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition that demanded the Poway Unified School District cut all ties with SeaWorld.

He gave a rousing speech at the Miracle March for Lolita and has also been interviewed by major media.

Zach is currently working on two novels – both in the perspective of captive cetaceans and their lives before and during confinement. He has also volunteered to protect sea turtles from poachers in Costa Rica with Earthrace Conservation Organization and Peta2’s Youth Advisory Board.