Orca Whale in Captivity Now Endangered

orca whale
Orca whales have now been added to the endangered species list. Lolita, the killer (Orca) whale featured at the Miami Aquarium may now win federal protection for her family.

For almost 50 years, Lolita has been highlighted in acrobatic presentations at the Miami Aquarium. Though her family was given protection status by the federal government a decade ago, Lolita still remains in captivity.The current decision on orca whales being considered an endangered species does not mean anything will change for the Miami-based orca whale. Though, a round of legal fights will ensue.

Will Stelle, a chief in the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, stated that this is a listing decision. There has not been any action taken on the orca whale’s living conditions, even though animal activists have long criticized them as being harsh and inhumane. He stated that the current discussion does not have anything to do with the current battle, but all to do with public attention.

In 2013, animal rights activists pleaded to the NOAA to include Lolita, the orca whale in question, to the endangered species listing. The plea was a legal battle to ask for the retirement of the whale because it was believed that the orca was the oldest in captivity – at 50 years of age.

Jared Goodman, a litigator with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), stated that the organization he represents is going to do anything in its power to ensure the newly discovered protection for orca whales are granted, insofar as reducing and rejecting the actions of harm and harassment towards the whales.

It is unclear whether or not Lolita will be placed under the same protection as her orca family, considering she has been in captivity for nearly half a century. The title of endangered species normally applies to animals facing extinction that are currently in the wild which protects them from further harm. This means imposing restrictions on fishing and stopping human influence on the animal’s habitat like construction and the dumping of man-made pollutants and waste.

Lolita was omitted from the orca whale population of Southern resident killer whales that were located off of the coast of Puget Sound, near Washington State. The numbers of the whales there does not even exceed 80. However, the NOAA decided to include Lolita after the administration took in 17,000 public cries, supporting her listing on the endangered species list. Furthermore, genetic testing regarding Lolita ensured the evidence that linked her to the Puget Sound population of orca whales.

The NOAA will not speak on the living conditions of Lolita because they are managed by the United States Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture keeps watch over the living conditions of all captive animals, including the orca whales in question. The NOAA will only act if the Miami Aquarium plans on implementing conditions that would harm Lolita or other animals in the aquarium. Miami Aquarium officials stated that there is no need to reply to the NOAA because Lolita is not and will not be harmed in any fashion. Naomi Rose, a marine biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute, stated that her team is attempting to negotiate a deal with the aquarium; however, negotiations have been stagnant.

Marine animal activists have always thought and argued that Lolita’s tank is far too small at 20 feet in depth. This tank is the shallowest in the nation and it also lacks the proper shade. The activists also opine that the USDA should allow Lolita to have a companion orca whale. Nonetheless, whether or not Lolita gets put on the endangered species list, her family and offspring of orca whales will enjoy the protections provided by the U.S. federal government.

By: Alex Lemieux


Miami Herald

CBS News

National Geographic

Image by Ed Schipul – Flickr License

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