Miami Orca Covered Under Endangered Species Act
By miami.cbslocal.com // February 4, 2015
Has lived at Miami Seaquarium for 40 years
ABOVE VIDEO: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Fisheries Services decided to include Lolita under the Endangered Species Act. (Video by CBS4 Miami)
MIAMI- Groups who want to free Lolita, the Miami Seaquarium’s lone killer whale, are claiming a victory after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Fisheries Services decided to include her under the Endangered Species Act.
“This is not a decision to free Lolita,” said a NOAA official he said during a conference call on Wednesday.
Officials went on to say the decision does not there will be any changes to Lolita’s care in captivity.
A distinct population group of Southern Resident killer whales was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on November 18, 2005.
According to rule, the protection did not include Southern Resident killer whales in captivity prior to the listing.
Lolita, the only Southern Resident killer whale in captivity, was reportedly taken from the Southern Resident killer whale population in the northern Pacific in 1970.
On January 25, 2013, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the Orca Network and others petitioned the government to revise the endangered listing of Southern Resident killer whales to remove the exclusion of captive whales from the description and include Lolita as protected under the ESA.
They claimed that DNA and the area where Lolita was captured indicated that she was at one time a member of the Southern Resident killer whale population.
The NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, which studies the Southern Resident whale population, found the evidence presented supported the groups’ claim that Lolita was from the Southern Resident killer whale group that received protection in 2005.
On Wednesday, NOAA posted on its West Coast Region website that a decision had been made and “we find that Lolita’s captive status, in and of itself, does not preclude her listing under the ESA.”
PETA claims that by adding Lolita to the Endangered Species Act it opens the door to further action.
The group claims that in addition to her tank at the Miami Seaquarium being smaller than federal requirements, “she has been without a companion of her own species for the past 35 years, and without shelter from the blazing sun—violates the ESA’s prohibition on harming and harassing protected animals,” according a statement from PETA.
NOAA said Lolita’s pool size is not under their jurisdiction so they cannot comment on it.
They add that there is ongoing litigation concerning Lolita’s captive care.
PETA said they plan to continue to push for Lolita to be retired from performing and transferred to a seaside sanctuary that’s waiting for her in her home waters off Washington’s San Juan Islands.
If possible, Lolita may even be released back into her family pod, according to the group.
“The issues surrounding any release of Lolita to the wild are numerous and complex, would involve both the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and are not analyzed in the listing rule,” according to NOAA’s website.
In the summer of 1970, Lolita was caught in Penn Cove, Puget Sound, WA. She was one of seven young whales sold to marine parks around the world from a roundup of over 80 orcas conducted by Ted Griffin and Don Goldsberry, partners in a capture operation known as Namu, Inc.
Tokitae, as she was originally named, was purchased by Seaquarium veterinarian Dr. Jesse White for about $20,000.
Lolita is a 20-foot-long, 7,000 pound orca, who has lived at the Miami Seaquarium for 40 years.