The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) helped file a lawsuit on Monday against the Miami Seaquarium, in an effort to free Lolita–the Seaquarium’s orca whale and main attraction for more than 40 years. PETA hopes to see her transferred to a more humane environment, where she would be free to behave as she would in her natural environment.
PETA plans to free Lolita by suing the Seaquarium on the grounds of violating the Endangered Species Act by keeping an orca whale in captivity. The Seaquarium bought Lolita for $6,000 dollars in 1970, after she was captured at just 4 years old off the coast of Washington in 1970.
PETA claims that ever since, “Lolita has been unable to swim any meaningful distance, dive, forage, or carry out virtually any natural behaviors,” claiming her tank to be one of the smallest orca habitats in the world, measuring only 80 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 20 feet deep–not very much space for a whale measuring nearly 10 feet in length to feel at home. Additionally, Lolita is forced to perform for crowds 7 days a week, and all by herself, as her orca-buddy Hugo passed away in 1980. PETA is requesting for Lolita to be placed in a sea-pen with other orcas, made to mimic a more natural habitat, giving the aging star a much-needed retirement, where she can practice hunting and communicating with other orcas–two activities she has not been able to take part in for more than 40 years.
The Miami Seaquarium has recently issued statements claiming that it “provides first-class care for Lolita. She remains healthy and thriving after 45 years of residency.” Rejecting PETA’s insistence that she be placed back into a more natural and free environment, the Seaquarium is reluctant to let go of their star attraction, as she draws in the most customers on a daily basis.
The Seaquarium was also quick to fire back on violating the Endangered Species Act, claiming that even if orcas were moved to the endangered species list, there would be no reason for the orca to be moved, as she is placed in excellent care already. Other critics of PETA’s plans claim it would be “cruel and traumatic” to free Lolita at this stage, as after such a long time spent in routine captivity, some believe it would be cruel to place her in such a different environment, expecting her to adapt so quickly and at such an old age.
THE COURT RULES ON FREE LOLITA CASE
This is not the first lawsuit that PETA has tried to file against the Seaquarium in the hopes to free Lolita, with two previous attempts already dismissed by District Courts. In November 2011, PETA joined up with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service in order to get Lolita on the Endangered Species List, hoping that she would then become protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Although NOAA has since added her to the list, courts have ruled that this doesn’t affect her being owned by the Miami Seaquarium. The courts again dismissed charges in 2014 by the ALDF and PETA in 2014, this time claiming that their cruel treatment of Lolita violated the Seaquarium’s Animal Welfare Act License.
PETA hopes for their most recent lawsuit to be taken a bit more seriously this time around, asking for those who support their cause to free Lolita to band together outside of the Seaquarium’s doors, where they petition every day from noon to 2pm.