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Lolita the Orca is One Step Closer to Being Freed

Lolita the Orca is One Step Closer to Being Freed

In 1970, seven Southern Resident orca whales were captured in the notorious Penn Cove roundup in Washington’s Puget Sound to be sold into the entertainment industry for display.

The violent roundup, and subsequent coverup of orcas and calves who died and had their bodies weighted down to keep them hidden and avoid having them counted in the “take,” caused public outrage and led to the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, which bans the capture of marine mammals in U.S. waters and it’s not hard to see why.

You can hear haunting cries in the video below, as the orcas are rounded up and separated. Even some who participated still regret what they’ve done.

By 1987, all of the 45 orcas who had been kidnapped from their families in the wild had died in captivity except for Lolita. She has spent more than 40 years in an unacceptably (and illegally) small tank at the Miami Seaquarium where she has been entertaining curious onlookers. She has been alone since 1980, when her companion Hugo committed suicide by ramming his head into the tank wall, which caused an aneurysm.

Animal advocates have been fighting for Lolita’s freedom for decades and have finally had some success with an announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that it has accepted a petition filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation, the Orca Network and individuals to extend Endangered Species Act protection to Lolita.

The Southern Resident orcas, which include three distinct pods (J, K and L) that live in Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, were listed as endangered in 2005. As of now, there are only 84 of these orcas in the wild.

Lolita is from the L-pod and, and according to the Orca Network, she still calls out in the unique language used only by her family members. She remembers.

The Orca Network’s co-founder and president Howard Gannet told the Times Colonist that it’s a step in the right direction, but noted that it’s only one of many hurdles in the battle for Lolita’s freedom. He added that if she is successfully listed, it’s likely she would be freed.

“They can’t hold a member of an endangered species captive for business reasons,” he said.

However, Brian Gorman, spokesman for the NMFS in Seattle said that it may not mean her freedom, and may only result in other actions such as making improvements to her living conditions.

In the event that she does get her freedom, there is an extensive retirement plan in place for her new life in the Pacific. Some argue that she may suffer a similar fate to Keiko, but unlike Keiko, Lolita still has family in the wild. There are believed to be at least six Southern Residents still alive who were at the Penn Cove roundup, one of whom may be her mother.

At the very least, Lolita’s advocates hope she will be returned to a sea-pen on San Juan Island, where she will at least be able to hear the calls of her pod and communicate with them. Her advocates hope she can be reintegrated into the wild, but if she is unwilling or unable to go back, they will provide care for her indefinitely.

Any decisions about Lolita’s future are still a long way off. The NMFS has until the end of next January to decide if the petition is warranted, and if they do their decision will be followed by a public comment period.

However, there is a conflicting petition that seeks to remove all ESA protection from the Southern Residents, which will be decided in August.


Please sign the petition supporting Lolita’s freedom.


Related Stories:

Only 86 of These Orcas Still Exist, But They Don’t Deserve Protection

Why Are We Celebrating the Birth of an Orca at SeaWorld?

Japan’s New Dolphin Slaughter Method Still Inhumane, Say Scientists


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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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6:37PM PST on Nov 12, 2013

I'll never visit another Seaworld that holds orcas again. I recently went to Seaworld San Diego albeit relucantly but was part of the tour package as I came from Australia. I found the orcas in depressing tanks and vowed never again will I contribute to this "entertainment".

9:27AM PDT on Aug 19, 2013

Females breed until age 40 & lifespans of wild females average 50 yrs, with a max of 80–90 so Lolita is not too old for freedom by any means. Would she be able to survive in the wild, though? Her family are out there in the familiar place where she lived and was captured. Orcas have 'dialects' for each pod (family) and Lolita still calls out to her family using the dialect taught to her as a young whale (pre-6 years old). So she he knows how to communicate with them. Lolita's family is composed of a matrilineal family group of the type which is the most stable of any animal species. Their sophisticated hunting techniques and vocal behaviours which are often specific to a particular group are passed across generations. So, essentially, Lolita may not know all the hunting techniques used by her family but she could still learn them because she can a) still be taught new tricks, as it were and b) still communicate with her family in their own language. Even if she can't live within her pod anymore and can't totally fend for herself out there in the wild, there are groups who, as the article states 'will provide care for her indefinitely' (in a sea pen). So, well worth it to get her out! (I got some of this info from Wiki - good article, but please search 'Lolita orca' on the web and there are many great articles about her and practical, easy ideas on how to keep the pressure on to free her.

5:30AM PDT on Aug 17, 2013

prayers for all captive sentient beings.

8:38AM PDT on Jun 18, 2013

signed, thanks for sharing

10:06AM PDT on May 29, 2013


7:49AM PDT on May 24, 2013

It is sad to see the 'leaning no' and even the 'leaning yes' votes, it just shows that there are some people on this site - where people are supposed to care - who cannot feel humanity and were never taught right from wrong.

Lolita deserves to be free at whatever cost there is involved to get her through the process in the safest way.

7:34AM PDT on May 24, 2013

will her pod accept her? i hope so. we have to leave this animal alone. just the fact that they are the planets top predator and have never attacked a human in the wild should tell us something.

7:22AM PDT on May 24, 2013

40 years! It is apparent that she is being held in illegal conditions, so why is this taking so long?????

I signed the petition in September last year, that was eight months ago, but has probably felt like 8 years ago for Lolita.

Poor baby! Bless her.

2:03PM PDT on May 19, 2013

So sad, but would she stay alive in freedom after 40 years of captivity?

1:18PM PDT on May 17, 2013

free Lolita!!!

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