WDC has written to the United States’ National Marine Fisheries Service in support of a petition filed jointing by Animal Defense League Fund, PETA and The Orca Network to list Lolita, a female orca held in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium in the US Endangered Species Act, along with the rest of the Southern Resident orca population. US law requires Federal agencies to publish notices of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register to enable public participation in the decision-making process through the provision of comments in support or opposition.
Lolita was captured along with 11 other Southern Resident orcas in 1970 in the waters of Washington State. Five other orcas, including four calves, died during the capture. All the other orcas captured from this population died within five years of the capture, as did another Southern Resident and Lolita’s pool mate, Hugo, who died in 1980. Since then, Lolita has remained with no others of her kind in a tank that does not even meet the inadequate requirements of US legislation for the keeping of orcas in captivity.
The Southern Resident population of orcas was listed as endangered in 2005 and continues to face a large host of threats from pollution, increased shipping activity, including personal watercraft and commercial whale-watch boats, as well as concerns over availability of their preferred prey (Chinook salmon). Past live captures for the aquarium industry is thought to have contributed to their endangered status. In spite of there being no logical or legal reason for Lolita’s exclusion from the listing, it is thought she was excluded because she is in captivity. Lolita meets all the criteria for listing.
WDC also supports Lolita’s rehabilitation in a sea pen in her natural waters, with the possibility of release into her wild population, which could contribute to the long-term conservation of the Southern Residents by adding another individual to the population at best, or increasing our understanding of these majestic marine mammals in a more natural setting at worse. These contributions to the recovery of the population could be could be vital, but are likely not possible without first extending the protections of the ESA to Lolita.