Free Lolita? Feds Seek Public Comment On Miami's Captive Orca

Jan 28, 2014

Credit Animal Legal Defense Fund

For years, animal-rights activists have been trying to win freedom for the captive orca known to Miami Seaquarium audiences as “Lolita.”  A recent announcement by federal officials could be the first step.

At the time of her capture in 1970, Lolita was part of the Southern Resident Orcas, a pod of killer whales that spend most of their time in the waters of Puget Sound and British Columbia. The pod was given endangered-species status in 2005.  And now the National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking public comment on a proposal to give Lolita the same protection.

Many animal activists see the federal announcement as a huge step toward winning Lolita her freedom.

“We want Miami Seaquarium to work with us and orca experts towards eventually considering whether release is possible,” says Carter Dillard, director of litigation for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. 

In the meantime, the ALDF says it wants to see an improvement in Lolita’s living conditions.  The ALDF and other activist groups say the Miami Seaquarium keeps Lolita in isolation in a tank so small that it fails to meet the minimum legal size requirements and also offers no protection from the sun — all violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

But Miami Seaquarium officials say Lolita’s living conditions already exceed federal minimum standards for animal safety.   The Seaquarium also maintains that releasing Lolita into the wild would be dangerous for her and her fellow orcas.

Many animal activists also feel it would be imprudent to simply release an orca into open waters after 44 years in captivity.  They’re calling for Lolita to be retired to a transitional sanctuary off the coast of Washington, until she’s ready to rejoin the rest of her family.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking scientific and commercial information pertaining to the proposed rule regarding Lolita.

Comments must be received prior to March 28, 2014, by any of the methods listed below. Please use the following identification number with comments NOAA-NMFS-2013-0056. 

-- Electronic Submission: Go to Federal e-Rulemaking Portal here and click the “Comment Now!" Icon. 

-- Mail: Submit written comments to Protected Resources Division, NMFS, West Coast Region, Protected Resources Division, 7600 Sand Point Way NE., Bldg. 1, Seattle, Washington 98115 Attn: Lynne Barre, Branch Chief

-- Fax: (206) 526-6426; Attn: Lynne Barre, Branch Chief