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Freedom One Step Closer for Orca Lolita, Held Captive for 44 Years

Today’s announcement from the United States Government’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to include the captive orca, Lolita (also known as Tokitae) in the Southern Resident orca Distinct Population Segment (DPS) is welcomed by Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins. Today’s ruling officially recognizes Lolita, who is currently held at Miami Seaquarium, as a member of this critically endangered population in the Pacific Northwest.

Lolita was taken from the Southern Resident population on August 8, 1970, in the infamous Penn Cove roundup.  More than 80 orcas were captured that day, with 12 taken into captivity and sold to various facilities, and at least five dying in the process.  Lolita is the last surviving Southern Resident in captivity, and has been held in Miami for the last 44 years.

 The Southern Resident orcas were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. By finalizing this decision, the NMFS is finally officially adding Lolita to the family that she has always been a part of, and removing the arbitrary exclusion of captive Southern Residents from that 2005 Endangered Species Act listing. Endangered status protects Lolita from harassment and unsuitable habitat conditions, and could be a key component in the battle to end her ongoing captivity for entertainment. This ruling also opens up the potential to release her from her confinement at the Miami Seaquarium and carry out a retirement plan that would bring her back to a more natural life in the waters of her native Northwest.

“We believe this ruling demonstrates that Lolita should now be considered a part of the conservation management strategy in place to help in the recovery of this beleaguered population, which with the addition of Lolita, now officially has 78 members.” said Colleen Weiler, WDC Rekos Orca Fellow. “Based on the legal arguments, she should not be excluded from her family’s endangered status, or the protections awarded by that status. We welcome this finding as another step closer to her going home.” 

WDC will continue conservation efforts to protect the Southern Residents in the wild; and will work with other stakeholder groups to ensure today’s decision is fully implemented and Lolita is released from her confinement at the Miami Seaquarium and granted retirement to her native waters.