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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.

Commenting is closed.
  • rachel says:


  • judith bourne says:

    everyone is so polite about their requests. I know if humans protected ‘all’ habitats on earth, ‘all’ of our futures wouldn’t be on the line. until humans let go of ‘selling’ what is not theirs, we will continue to pay a price.

  • Kathleen Chirico says:

    It’s time to do the right thing here, now. Let the orca return to her natural state of freedom. Please allow Lolita her chance at finding her own kind, her chance at life.

  • Put her back were she belongs and deserves to be she’s been there entertainment to long this is heart breaking! I can’t believe humanity this is cruel imagine that being you!

  • Carolina Aguilar says:

    I am so happy to read these wonderful news. I have been following Lolita’s story for quite a while, and when I first saw her documentary I started to cry. How can such an amazing being be in such a small tank, and all by herself? with just the companionship of humans and flashing cameras and treats as rewards when she does a back flip correctly? This isn’t freedom, I honestly think she is holding out because she hopes to be reunited with her family. Please release her, she needs to retire, she needs to feel the waves, she needs to feel the ocean…she needs to return home.

  • Purple Kumai says:

    Please let Lolita be free, let her live out her days close to her family and away from the prison humanity has put her in.

  • Larry says:

    Please free Lolita! She deserves to be with family again!

  • Kathryn says:

    Lolita deserves freedom! We had no right to take her from her rightful home in the first place, and deserves the right to swim freely alongside her family once more and out of that illegally sized bathtub of a tank that has been her ‘home’ for 40 years. She has suffered for the amusement of humans for far too long, now is the time for her to take back what is rightfully hers — freedom!

  • Julie Metzgar says:

    Please free Lolita. She deserves to live out her remaining years in the wild. This is complete animal abuse, otherwise. Living in captivity is torturing her. Let her go live in her natural habitat.

  • I definitely want Lolita to be reunited with her family of orcas and to go back free to her home and experience the life in the wild she was born to. Thanks for any efforts to get this for her. She should never have lost it.

  • Linda Dickie says:

    Pleeeeeze free Lolita. I don’t understand how anyone can watch animals on land and those in sea suffer. Pleeeeeze help!

  • Dora says:

    This is great news! This is the beginning of the release of all orcas and dolphins being held captive in dolphinariums and sea aquariums!

  • Paula Schneider says:

    Mankind does not own the earth – we are a part of the whole. It is time to right a wrong in human evolution – animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or any other form of greed/profit. The human animal should hang his head in shame and disgust for how other innocent, sentient earthlings have been treated at his hands. We will never be able to apologize enough for the horrors that have been done. but we can stop it NOW!!!!!!!!!! Start by freeing Lolita – start by being humane.

  • Priya Maeva says:

    40 years!! Please let her finally be free, its so cruel to keep Lolita and all other animals captive like this to satisfy human greed. Imagine us being held captive in a crammed room for so long, we’d go insane!

  • Elizabeth Craig says:

    After 40 years of a miserable life in captivity, Lolita deserves her right for freedom and enjoy the rest of life in happiness with her family in open waters.

  • ELise Halvorsen says:

    Let her be free! They have a life, they are not Ours! They belong in the sea..

  • joannna says:

    Civilised peoples are judged by the way they treat animals.

  • Leah says:

    free Lolita… end captivity for all whales and dolphins… they belong in the oceans… not man-made fish bowls to be exploited for human greed!

  • necole says:

    Please release her back into the wild with her family This is where orcas and dolphins belong not in captivity

  • let her be free its a step in the right direction, its time to end her abuse and solitary confinement.

  • 40 years of captivity, please put lolita back with her family. She needs to be free!!

  • Catherine Turner says:

    I am heartened by the NMFS decision to include Lolita under the wild orcas protection.
    It’s time this old girl went home.

  • Carol Adams says:

    After more than 40 miserable years in captivity, Lolita deserves to be free. She has been deprived of the companionship of her own species and the stimulation of the natural world, which scientists know orcas desperately need. Do the right thing and let Lolita live the rest of her life in her home waters, in a sanctuary under expert care.

  • Nicole Kroeze-pomme says:

    All orcas should live free in their ocean homes…watch Blackfish and you’ll know without a doubt…please free Lolita, it’s about time, end the suffering,thank you!!

  • john smith says:

    It seems sadly that while the USA claims to be the champion of freedom and democracy it does not extend this freedom to animals and allows them to be treated in this manner. Any decent humane society would free this animal at once

  • sharon says:

    all mammals in theme parks need to be returned to the sea!!!!

  • Blanca says:

    Please free lolita.stop animal abuse. Stop please. Free free free Lolita.

  • jane says:

    send lolita home she deserve it so long in captivity send her back to her family

  • We need to finally acknowledge that so many of these animals cannot survive, mentally or physically, in the small spaces we confine them to. They must be allowed to roam free. Not just Lolita, but all of the orcas and many of the dolphins, etc. that are in sea parks or contained for entertainment or photos. Find a way to educate without confinement. With that being said, I fully support the government in setting Lolita free. The current conditions in which she is held are unacceptable and she is enduring tremendous suffering. I wish to see her transferred to a seaside sanctuary in her home waters under expert care. Thank you!!

  • Joanne Beeman says:

    It is long overdue for Lolita to receive the life of freedom that she has been denied since her babyhood. She has been delivered a shameful injustice that she did not ask for nor deserve. Do the right thing and allow her to live out her remaining years in freedom. We humans can be so selfish, but we also have the capability to be compassionate.

  • Dawn V. Sink says:

    It is time we end the suffering of all captive animals – let them be free!

  • Judy McLean says:

    Please free Lolita. It is so disheartening to constantly read how we humans exhibit such selfishness and cruelty while exploiting our animal friends.

  • Laurie Jidov says:

    Lolita doesn.t deserve what she is enduring…… can anyone take a wild animal and put it in an unnatural situation????????????

  • Erika says:

    Lolita is entitled to HER life! It is not for humans to decide. Send her back to her family ASAP!

  • Stephanie Besselievre says:

    Send Lolita home!

  • Carolyn Fountain says:

    I pray for Lolita’s release soon. I tip my hat to NMFS.

  • Marilyn Oakley says:

    Please let Lolita go home, she’s been suffering far too long. Set her free please.

  • Jasmin Pirkl says:

    it is just plain horrible what has been done to Lolita. We giving our crimninal inmates in prison more compasion as orcas who have done nothing to us at all. End Lolitas suffering and free her after decades of loneliness.

  • Louise Perreault says:

    Please let Lolita be free and happy. She has suffered for too long.

  • Hannah says:

    Please give Lolita the freedom she deserves!

  • Michelle Forsberg says:

    Lolita has suffered long enough. Please do what you know is right by granting her protection and allowing her to live a better life.

  • Bob Mackenzie says:

    I applaud the decision by NMFS to include Lolita under the protection of wild orcas. I strongly encourage you to expedite release to a seaside sanctuary.

  • Barbara Cundari says:

    Please send Lolita home, and put an end to her suffering !!

  • Sara Arial MacBride says:

    Please release Lolita into the Seaside Sanctuary in her natural waters, it has taken too long to get to this decision so why waste anymore time, she and so many like her deserve to be free and safe from humans who use them for their own gains.

  • kris ayers says:

    I absolutely believe that Lolita should go back to her natural home, the Ocean! For her to swim free as she was meant to, not be cramped in a tiny tub for the rest of her life, no one has the right to take a beautiful creature from its home and put it in a cage or a tub, everyone and every living thing should be able to live in their environment that they were born into, its like kid napping a baby or a child! Its just wrong!

    Please free Lolita so she can have a loving family of her own, like every woman would want!

  • Maria Williams says:

    NMFS, I am very pleased to hear that you support the decision to list Lolita as an endangered Southern Resident orca and thus she is legally entitled to the same protections as her wild family which will hopefully open the door for here release. Lolita was taken from her family at a very very young age and has been kept in a cramped tank at the Miami Seaquarium for decades with no interaction with other members of her species. Lolita swims in endless circles with no opportunity to engage in any type of natural behavior. She deserves to be free with her family in the ocean where God created these beautiful sentient beings to live.

  • Penelope Ryan says:

    I hardly know what to say anymore the cruelty humans exibit to animals is beyond. All will answer to GOD or karma. We must show kindness to our fellow ANIMALS. Weare all animals., only humans kill and exploit for profit and for no reason.

  • katrina kernaghan says:

    Please give Lolita the freedom she deserves, she has suffered long enough.