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Victory! Decision Brings Lolita One Step Closer to Her Ocean Home

Written by Jennifer O'Connor | January 24, 2014

Today, a decision made by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) opened the door to the eventual release of Lolita—a wild-caught orca who has been held in solitary confinement in a cramped tank at the Miami Seaquarium for decades—back to her ocean home. You may have seen footage of her heartbreaking capture in the documentary film Blackfish.

1971 Orca capture off the coast of Washington State (Lolita and Family)©Terrell C. Newby, Ph.D.

The ruling comes two years after PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and four individuals sued the NMFS over Lolita’s exclusion from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA protects members of the wild Southern Resident orca population, who are considered endangered, from being harmed or harassed. Yet despite being a Southern Resident orca, Lolita has been denied these protections without any explanation or lawful justification by the NMFS.

1971 Orca capture off the coast of Washington State (Lolita and Family)©Terrell C. Newby, Ph.D.

In 2012, a settlement was reached in which the NMFS agreed to reconsider Lolita’s exclusion from the ESA pursuant to our petition, and a status review got underway.

Today, the NMFS agreed with PETA that listing Lolita as an endangered Southern Resident orca is warranted, and thus she’s legally entitled to the same protections as her wild family. The decision opens the door for her eventual release from the Miami Seaquarium.

1971 Orca capture off the coast of Washington State (Lolita and Family)© Terrell C. Newby, Ph.D.

Lolita was just a baby when she was torn away from her mother and family and imprisoned in a minuscule tank barely larger than her own body. For more than 40 years, she has had a poor quality of life. Swimming in endless circles, denied the companionship of other orcas, and forced to perform silly tricks, Lolita needs to spend her senior years in a coastal sanctuary in her home waters in Puget Sound, which would allow her greater freedom of movement and the opportunity to see, sense, and communicate with her mother, wild cousins, and other ocean animals and to feel the tides and waves—all the things that she’s been denied for far too long.

1971 Orca capture off the coast of Washington State (Lolita)Orca Image: © Terrell C. Newby, Ph.D.

What You Can Do

Please express your support for Lolita by submitting a comment here by March 28. Let the government know that you support its decision to include Lolita in her family’s ESA listing, that the current conditions in which she is held – in a tiny barren tank with no companions of her own species and no protection from the sun – cause her to suffer, and that you want to see her transferred to a seaside sanctuary in her home waters under expert care.

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