MIAMI, Fla (Reuters) – A push to free Lolita, a killer whale in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium for 44 years, inched forward on Wednesday when federal officials agreed to add her to the endangered species list.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Lolita belonged on the list along with her wild relatives. She was previously exempt due to her captive status.
“Captive animals such as Lolita cannot be assigned separate legal status from their wild counterparts,” the agency said, announcing the change to take effect in 90 days.
The 7,000-pound (3.2-tonne) orca was captured in 1970 about 50 miles northwest of Seattle, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which petitioned for her endangered listing.
The status change clears a path for activists to ask a federal court to determine whether Lolita’s living conditions violate the Endangered Species Act.
Animal rights organizations have bemoaned her 80 x 60 feet wide and 20 feet deep (24 x 18 metres wide, 6 metres deep) tank as one of the smallest whale enclosures in the world.
“She’s been there languishing in a bath tub for longer than all but one orca in captivity,” said Jared S Goodman, PETA’s director of animal law.
Killer whales have no natural predators and can live to 50 to 80 years old.