With the popularity of the documentary Blackfish, which focuses on captive orcas at SeaWorld, public debate over keeping the endangered species in captivity has reignited.
For years, activists have tried to have Lolita, an orca held captive at the Miami Seaquarium, released. Today, federal officials announced that they are taking the first steps toward having Lolita included in the endangered species listing for Puget Sound orcas. It could be a possible path to having Lolita released to a more natural setting.
Back in 1970, Lolita was captured off Puget Sound, Washington, and sold to the Seaquarium. Since 1980 she has been the facility's only orca and has lived with two dolphins in a relatively small enclosure. In fact, it's the smallest orca tank in North America.
Lolita's family, the Puget Sound L-pod, was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2005, but Lolita was made an exception. She's the last surviving whale from the pod that still lives in captivity.
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that they are now seeking public comment as to whether Lolita should be protected as well.
Update: We had previously linked to an outdated public comment form on the case. The new public comment form will go online on Monday, January 27th.
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"Lolita should never have been excluded from the Endangered Species Act in the first place, and now the government has righted that wrong," said PETA general counsel Jeffrey Kerr in a release. "Lolita has suffered in that tank every day for more than four decades, and PETA is working hard to see her one day freed from her ordeal."
If Lolita is granted protective status, she could be transferred to a seaside sanctuary near her original home of Puget Sound where she would either live out the rest of her life or possibly eventually be returned to the wild and rejoin her family. That would include her 85-year-old mother, who still lives in the wild.