Lolita, Miami Seaquarium Orca, Granted Endangered Status

Miami Seaquarium's resident orca, Lolita, may be one step closer to winning her freedom. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced today it has ruled to include her in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of southern resident killer whales.

This ruling means Lolita is now granted the same protection as the rest of her family, which lives in the waters off Washington state's San Juan Islands (where Lolita was captured 44 years ago). According to PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Orca Network, and others, the decision is a direct result of their collective petitioning of the agency on Lolita's behalf.

See also: March For Lolita at Virginia Key Beach Park

"The next step for us will be to ensure her newly granted protections are enforced," says Jared Goodman, PETA Foundation's director of animal law.

"Right now she's being held in conditions we believe are in direct violation of the Endangered Species Act, both in terms of her woefully inadequate enclosure, living without another member of her own species, and being subjected to the hot Miami sun without any opportunity to seek shelter," he adds.

The 7,000-pound Lolita lives in the smallest tank for an animal her size in North America. Her enclosure is substandard by modern legal standards, but because she's been in residence at the Seaquarium for 44 years, officials have thus far allowed her to remain in the 60-by-80-foot tank.

See also: Animal Advocates March for Release of Lolita, Miami Seaquarium's Orca

PETA plans to push for Lolita's retirement. There's a seaside sanctuary awaiting her in Washington, and it's even possible Lolita may be released back into her family pod. In the wild, southern resident orcas often spend their entire lives with their mothers, and Lolita's mom is reportedly still alive.

PETA believes this decision is a huge boon for Lolita.

"This is her shot at freedom," Goodman says.

Reportedly, the news wasn't supposed to come out today. It was accidentally posted on the NOAA website ahead of a February 6 release date, PETA says. But, as Goodman quipped, the cat is out of the bag.

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