Lawsuit Over Seaquarium License Headed Back to Court

For Immediate Release:
March 17, 2021

David Perle 202-483-7382


This morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida’s dismissal of the lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the Orca Network, and a concerned individual challenging the USDA’s decision to transfer the Miami Seaquarium’s license to its current owner, Palace Entertainment, which is also a defendant in the suit.

The park notoriously keeps a lone orca, Lolita, in a tank so small that it fails to meet even the plain language of the minimum legal size requirement of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). It also offers the orca no meaningful protection from the burning sun and confines her with incompatible animals, both additional apparent violations of the AWA. Now, the plaintiffs will return to the district court to argue that the USDA unlawfully licensed Palace Entertainment when it purchased the park in 2014 and that Lolita cannot remain in these conditions if it wishes to continue exhibiting any animals to the public. Exhibitors’ licenses do not automatically transfer upon a change of ownership, and the USDA may only issue them to facilities that demonstrate compliance with the AWA, which the Miami Seaquarium does not.

“The Miami Seaquarium’s owner should never have been licensed to imprison an ocean-going orca in a cramped concrete pit in the first place, and the USDA should never have repeatedly signed off on her continued deprivation,” says PETA Foundation Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman. “PETA looks forward to returning to court and fighting for an end to Lolita’s five decades of misery.”

If successful, the lawsuit, first filed in 2016, could help pave the way for Lolita to be retired from performing and transferred to a seaside sanctuary in her home waters off Washington’s San Juan Islands, where she could interact with her family pod, from whom she was taken more than 50 years ago.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit or or follow PETA on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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