The Fight to Free Lolita, the World’s Loneliest Orca, Continues

Animal advocates have headed back to court on behalf of Lolita, a lonely orca who has spent decades in the smallest and oldest tank in the U.S. at the Miami Seaquarium, in an ongoing battle to set her free.

Lolita’s advocates had previously asked the court to intervene and stop the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from continuously renewing the Seaquarium’s license to exhibit Lolita, despite blatant violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Unfortunately, their case was dismissed in March by a federal judge. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the judge ruled that because Congress didn’t directly address license renewals when adopting the AWA, the USDA is allowed to rubber-stamp license-renewal applications.

Now the ALDF, Orca Network and PETA are challenging the dismissal and hope to ultimately to get the court to void the license and end Lolita’s suffering.

Not only is she being kept in a tank that violates the USDA’s standards for minimum size, but she’s being kept in solitary confinement with no escape from the Florida sun or other weather conditions, which are all violations of the AWA. Even if the Seaquarium did meet the minimum standards of care, they’re still woefully inadequate for orcas and have drawn congressional support for a long-overdue update.

“By failing to administer the law, the USDA sentences Lolita to another year of solitary confinement each time it renews Miami Seaquarium’s license. We will continue to fight to win her the protections she is entitled to under the law,” said ALDF’s Executive Director Stephen Wells.

The real tragedy of Lolita’s story began in 1970 when she was torn from her mother’s side and the rest of the Southern Residents‘ L pod during a brutal roundup in Penn Cove when she was just a baby. She was sent to the Miami Seaquarium that year and has been there since.

Lolita once at least had the companionship of another orca, Hugo, but he died of a brain aneurysm in 1980 after repeatedly ramming his head into the side of his tank in what many believe was a suicide. She has been alone ever since.

In addition to trying to get the courts to intervene, Lolita’s advocates are working to get her listed as an endangered species, along with the rest of the Southern Residents who were protected in 2005. Those supporting the effort believe that her captivity and continued exploitation would be a violation of the rules intended to protect imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act and that the Miami Seaquarium would have to let her go.

In January, the National Marine Fisheries Service responded to the petition, and announced that it was warranted, but a final decision isn’t expected until January 2015.

After more than 40 years in a tiny tank being forced to perform, she deserves to retire in peace. Of the few options available, her advocates are pushing to see the Orca Network’s retirement plan go into effect, which will involve sending her back to a sea pen in her home waters off the coast of Washington, where she will at least be able to experience the ocean and communicate with others of her kind.

The ultimate goal of the plan is to reintegrate her back into her pod, who her mother (L25) is still a part of. However, if she is unwilling, or unable, they have vowed to provide care for her for the remainder of her life. The story about Springer, the first orca who was successfully rescued and returned to the wild, give hope that Lolita would have the same success.

Whatever the outcome of the appeal and the petition for endangered species protection, we can be sure leaving her at the Miami Seaquarium will cause her to continue to suffer and result in certain death. With more than 40 years worth of profits in its pocket at Lolita’s expense, it’s time for the Seaquarium to let her go.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for the article.

Jayne W.
Jayne W.11 months ago

Is there an update to this story??? ... I can't find anything more recent. TY

Lisbeth Alvarado Sanchez
Lisbeth Alvarado Sanchezabout a year ago

Lolita should be set free. It is totally inhumane to keep her in captivity.

Michelle Perryman
Michelle Perrymanabout a year ago

Please sign for such a wonderful cause. Help this great animal to be FREE!!!

randy lee
randy leeabout a year ago

Let Lolita go! You have made enough money from her suffering! It was cruel enough to take her from her mother! Now you have used her enough for your selfish needs. It is time for her to live like an orca should live. Free!

Mandy H.
Mandy H.about a year ago

Dear god she's still not safe :(

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H.about a year ago

Simon R. Y had the same thoughts as I do. It is horrible to see her so despondent, just head bobbing in that tiny tank. It is unacceptable that she is and has been trapped in that place that is no bigger than a fish pond. The USDA needs to stop catering to money and actually do their job and stand up for Lolita. To me it seems odd that the USDA is responsible for Lolita rather than a wildlife agency. But then, again, I am afraid if a wildlife agency was in charge, just as little would be accomplished.

simon r.
simon r.about a year ago

This as bad as Arturo in Mendoza Zoo Argentina or all those unamed circus animals. Big shame on those ignorants who go watch the 'performances' and those who keep the animals' spirits imprisoned. I hope the Gods of All the Animals bring their own justice down on all involved in this maltreatment.

Daniela N.
Daniela Nenzabout a year ago

Free Lolita now.
Petition signed

Moira Brabender
Moira Brabenderabout a year ago

No one likes their pleasures taken away from them. So, is it for the benefit of getting money via a captive animal . that this seaquarium is holding this poor whale? People enjoy going to see animals. preferably . it would be better in their own environment, the ocean, where she can mix with her own kind. We can go about freely, so why do we condemn Lolita to a life of misery swimming round and round in, what to her, must feel like a goldfish bowl. Has she not suffered enough. Would it not be a mission of mercy, to have her freed and returned to the waves. She is lonely. She will have sad memories. She will be crying inside, wanting to be with her own kind and not have to do as others bid her for a fish. It is demoralising, degrading and totally selfish to keep this poor creature captive like this. Let Lolita smell the sea and swim amid the waves of freedom. Now.