Lolita, the orca whale, was captured from the wild off the coast of Washington in the 1970s. Since then, she has spent the duration of her life at the Miami Seaquarium, living in what is widely considered the world’s smallest orca enclosure. After being taken from her pod, she was given one orca companion at the aquarium, who died in 1980. She has lived all alone ever since.

This is a miserable existence for any creature, but especially so for an orca whale. Evidence shows that orcas are among the world’s most intelligent, social and complex beings – in fact, their brain function might even be more advanced than that of a human’s. Yet, Lolita has been sentenced to solitary confinement in a bath tub.

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Given the deplorable conditions Lolita has suffered through for the past 44 years, animal activists from across the world have been working tirelessly to attain her freedom. Since Lolita was a wild-caught orca, there is hope that she has retained knowledge of how to survive in the ocean and interact with other orcas. Her family pod still frequents the area where Lolita was captured so many years ago, and there is a real possibility that she could rejoin them.

Howard Garrett of the Orca Network believes that Lolita will be able to communicate with her pod, “and begin reforming that bond that was broken 40 years ago.”

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The fight to liberate Lolita has been years in the making, but it appears that there is FINALLY progress that could lead to her release. Lolita is from the L-Pod of Southern Resident Killer Whales which is listed as endangered. As part of this pod, Lolita should be considered an endangered species by default, however, since she is in captivity the distinction is not so clear. If activists can get Lolita to be recognized as an endangered species, they can sue for her release from the aquarium.

There is a highly detailed plan in place that would involve moving Lolita to a sea pen off the coast of Seattle to allow her to readjust to life in the wild. If she does well in this environment, she can be reintroduced to her pod. The National Marine Fisheries Service is set to rule whether Lolita will be included on the endangered species list along with her pod by the end of this month.

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This plan has been met with contempt from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who posits that if Lolita is rejected by her pod, she will never survive in the wild. But, after 44 years of misery, doesn’t she at least deserve the chance to see her family again?

Image source: Leonardo DeSilva/Flickr