PETA’s Years-Long Legal Battle Over Lolita the Orca Finally Wraps as Plans for Her Release Come to Fruition

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After suffering in a tiny tank for more than 50 years, Lolita the orca will finally be released to a seaside sanctuary—wrapping up a massive campaign by PETA that included several lawsuits on her behalf.

The most recent of these lawsuits was first filed in 2016, shortly after the Miami Seaquarium was sold to Palace Entertainment. We sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over its decision to relicense the Seaquarium, which the agency was aware had condemned Lolita to conditions that failed to meet the bare minimum standards required by the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Lolita at Miami Seaquarium

The marine park notoriously confined Lolita to a tiny tank—and we alleged that she was also held with incompatible animals and without adequate protection from the burning sun.

In 2017, after decades of the USDA approving Lolita’s noncompliant conditions and years of pressure from PETA, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General finally determined that the agency “has allowed [Lolita] to be kept in an enclosure which may not meet all space requirements defined by the agency’s AWA regulations” and “may deny the resident orca sufficient space for adequate freedom of movement.”

A district court then ruled in the USDA’s favor—but our legal team stayed relentless for Lolita. We returned to court to argue that the agency had unlawfully licensed Palace Entertainment when it purchased the Seaquarium and that the facility couldn’t confine Lolita to the existing conditions if it wished to continue exhibiting animals to the public.

Lawsuit Over Seaquarium License Headed Back to Court

In 2021, our legal efforts led to a huge breakthrough when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of our lawsuit. That meant that we could move forward with our groundbreaking litigation, which would have paved the way toward Lolita’s removal from the unlawful tank and potential retirement to a seaside sanctuary.

After we prevailed before the 11th Circuit and were able to move forward with our case, everything changed. In 2022, Palace Entertainment sold the Seaquarium to The Dolphin Company, which was granted an exhibitor’s license by the USDA under the condition that it would no longer display Lolita. This licensing decision likely led to the plans for her retirement.

PETA’s Years-Long Legal Battle Finally Wraps

This year, The Dolphin Company announced its plan to release Lolita to a seaside sanctuary with the help of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. Our case against the USDA alleging that the agency unlawfully licensed Palace was officially dismissed because the Seaquarium was sold again and was no longer licensed to exhibit Lolita to the public. After years of our persistent legal efforts, the agency ultimately agreed with us that the conditions that the facility kept Lolita in broke the law.

Our passionate work from the courtroom to the streets kept the pressure on the Miami Seaquarium and its owners to do right by Lolita. Now after enduring more than 52 grueling years in the smallest orca tank in the world, she’s scheduled to head back to her home waters. As far as PETA’s concerned, every effort we made in her behalf was a victory. Click the button below to learn more about our years-long, extensive campaign for her:

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