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March 20, 2014

It's Now or Never for Lolita the Orca!

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Dear Friend,

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed a rule to grant Lolita, one of the oldest captive-held orcas kept at the Miami Seaquarium, equal status as a member of an endangered species—just like her protected wild relatives. Lolita would have the chance to live out the rest of her days in her native waters off of the coast of Washington in the Southern Resident orca community (her pod), in the vicinity of her family.

We need your help to persuade NOAA to include Lolita as a member of her protected family and release her to her native waters. The deadline for comment submission is March 28.

In 1970, Lolita was violently taken from her family as an infant and has somehow endured 43 years of living in a tank so small that it violates the USDA’s Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations—and she’s been forced to perform tricks for visitors since her imprisonment. Since her partner died in 1980, Lolita has been without another orca companion. Now, she has been given an opportunity to be set free. 

In November 2005, the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population was granted ‘endangered’ status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—but a clause excluded whales already in captivity. On January 25, 2013, a petition was filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), and Orca Network, et al. on Lolita’s behalf to have her included under the endangered status, and the NOAA agreed—pending public comment input.

Read the detailed plans for her release, which have been fine-tuned since 1997.

This decision would set a historic precedent for the release of other captive marine mammals: an opportunity that could be lost if NOAA fails to hear overwhelming support for Lolita’s release, by informed people like you.

See the sample comment below (which you can either copy or revise with your own words) to submit here by March 28. Please take a moment to speak up on behalf of Lolita.

For the animals,

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Sample comment to submit here:

Dear NOAA Officials,

Please include captive whales, specifically Lolita held at the Miami Seaquarium, in the protection given to whales in the wild. Lolita was violently taken from her Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment family, which is now protected under the Endangered Species Act. Lolita has languished for the past 43 years and has earned her retirement. She has suffered enough, living in loneliness without the companionship of another orca for more than three decades, as well as being exposed to the harsh Florida sun and being confined to the extremely small size of the tank in which she is kept – all in violation of USDA’s Animal Welfare Act.

The releasability of long-term captive orcas has been studied extensively, and research suggests that Lolita’s release would be both safe and beneficial to her well-being. Lolita’s retirement plan has been refined by whale experts since its inception in 1997, and it addresses all aspects of her release. Specifically:

  1. There is no significant risk to Lolita or to the wild orcas regarding retirement in her native waters. Orcas can be safely transported, and immersion of captive marine mammals in their native waters has been described as ‘therapeutic’ by experts.
  2. A thorough examination will be conducted by a team of veterinarians and pathologists prior to transport to detect any potential communicable diseases, both for Lolita’s sake and for the sake of the wild orcas.
  3. Remaining in captivity will result in continuing mental and physical stresses and health deterioration. Captive whales die at younger ages than their wild counterparts: a fact that has been well-documented.

Please do the right thing by granting Lolita the protection allowed to her wild relatives. Grant her retirement from her life in captivity, and return her to her native waters.

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