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Victory for Animal Rights: Miami Seaquarium’s Lolita to Be Covered under the Endangered Species Act

Miami Seaquarium's Lolita to Be Covered under the Endangered Species Act

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 Marine Fisheries Services decided to include her under the Endangered Species Act.

A distinct population segment (DPS) of Southern Resident killer whales was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on November 18, 2005.   According to  rule, the DPS was defined as “whales from J, K, and L pods, wherever they are found wild, and not including Southern Resident killer whales placed in captivity prior to listing or their captive born progeny.”

Lolita, the only Southern Resident killer whale in captivity, was reportedly taken from the Southern Resident killer whale population 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 DPS.

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. Accordingly, we are removing the exclusion for captive whales in the regulatory language describing the Southern Resident killer whale DPS.”

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.

According to NOAA’s website, “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.”

NOAA notes that so far no studies have be authorized to see what impact Lolita would have on the wild population if she was released. They add that at this time, the Miami Seaquarium has not submitted a proposal to move or release Lolita.

Source:
CBS Miami

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2015 by in Florida, Headlines, Miami, U.S. and tagged , , , .

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