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In 1970, a group of hunters herded a pod of 60 Southern Resident orcas into a three-acre net pen off the coast of Washington state in Penn Cove. Seven of these whales were loaded onto trucks and transported to marine parks. However, only one of these orcas is still alive and in captivity. Her name is Lolita.

It’s estimated that Lolita was only four to six year old when she was corralled into the net pen with her family all those years ago. She eventually ended up at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida, where she has been for the last 44 years confined alone to a tank that, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) reports, is “smaller than even the minimum standard required by federal law.” In fact, it is the smallest orca tank in North America.

All of Lolita’s Southern Resident family members, whose population numbers just 85, were listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2005. Lolita never received similar protection.

For years, activists and even Washington governors, senators, and newspaper columnists have urged the Miami Seaquarium to transport her back to Washington waters, The Seattle Times reports, but to no avail.

However, it looks as though Lolita’s story may finally be heard as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed a rule on Jan. 24, 2014 that would grant Lolita endangered species status protection following a petition filed by ALDF, Orca Network, PETA and others. If the rule is approved, Lolita will then be retired from performing and be able to live out the rest of her days at a seaside sanctuary off Washington’s San Juan Island with the potential for eventual release into the wild.

What’s more, as The Seattle Times reports, “The move could have implications for other endangered species held by zoos and aquariums.”

The public comment period on NMFS’s proposed rule will open today, January 27, and will run until March 28. After this period, NMFS will spend months evaluating what coverage under the ESA will mean for Lolita. Lend your voice to Lolita today and speak out against her captivity. Spread the word about her chance at freedom using ALDF’s action alerts here and be sure to leave your public comment right here.

For more information on Lolita, check out the eight-minute documentary below from the Orca Project entitled, “A Day in the Life of Lolita, the Performing Orca.”

Remember! You have until March 28 to leave a public comment in support of Lolita’s endangered species status designation and subsequent release. Click here to leave your comment today!

Image source: Animal Legal Defense Fund

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161 comments on “Lolita, the Wild-Caught Orca May Be Released After 44 Years in Captivity”

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4 Years Ago

I mean, the believe one of two whales in the pod family is her mother (there's obviously more than two whales, lol)

Zac Chandler
4 Years Ago

A bathtub for 44 yrs ? How sick we humans are.

4 Years Ago

In 2002 Keiko, the orca who starred in free willy, was released back into the wild after spending a DECADE being reconditioned to the environment and trained to hunt. 1 year later after the release, Keiko died and the multimillion dollar reintegration project was deemed a failure. The biggest issue with releasing an animal that has been directly under human care for so long is that they lose their natural fear of humans. This was evident in the case with Keiko. http://www.komonews.com/news/archive/4069656.html Releasing lolita would be an enormous risk which could lead to death, especially for an endangered species.

12 Feb 2014

Steve, one of the major issues with Keiko is they could not locate his pod . Lolita was in the wild for six years and, currently, orca researchers are aware of where her pod family is and even which of the two whales is her mother. There is a belief that she could possibly be reunited. They already have an ocean pen set up for her off the coast of Washington. Also, what do you think is better? Dying of captivity or in the wild? I mean, honestly which would you choose- life of misery or freedom, even if it came with risk?

Jo Bisley
4 Years Ago

Please release her, give her a chance!

4 Years Ago

Please FREE Lolita... she's been a prisoner for 44 yrs...stolen from the ocean and her family! She deserves a life of freedom now!!!!

Monica Gilbert
4 Years Ago

There is a detailed retirement plan for Lolita here http://www.orcanetwork.org/retirement.html Lolita's mother, Ocean Sun (L25) is still alive and Lolita recognises and vocalises to her. Lolita CAN be taught to hunt again. She just needs a chance.

4 Years Ago

White people got to learn to leave things where they are everything is not meant to be controlled. Did it with black people now hear its being done with a creature almost as majestic. She has been a slave long enough it is time now to let Lolita free and get to know her family!

30 Jan 2014

White people? You're going to make this a race issue? Let's take a look at the slavery, sex trafficking and female genital mutilation that's been going on in Africa among native black Africans for the last.. 3000+ years.

Nancy Czigany
4 Years Ago

How ironic -- release 1, capture2!

Paulette Hydak
4 Years Ago

Yes it's about time

Mark Gibson
4 Years Ago

Not sure it would survive in the wild after this long. A long time for any creature of the porpoise family.


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