The Lummi Nation wants to retire Lolita to a sea pen in the Sound, where she would be fed chinook and be in her home waters again, and in acoustic contact with her family.
The latest effort to free Lolita, the last southern-resident killer whale from Washington state waters still alive in captivity, has been rejected by a federal appeals court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in a decision Tuesday rejected a petition to reopen a lawsuit over the treatment of Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium, where she lives in the country’s smallest orca aquarium.
The orca was captured in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island in 1970. During the capture era of the 1960s and 1970s, a third of the southern-resident pods that frequent Puget Sound were taken and sold to aquariums and parks around the world.
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All of those whales have died, except Lolita, who continues to do tricks twice a day at the Seaquarium for food.
The Lummi Nation mounted the most recent effort to free her last spring. Carver Jewell Praying Wolf James created a totem pole for Lolita and took it all the way to the Seaquarium, meeting with people along the way to raise support for the whale’s release.
The Seaquarium refused to speak with the tribe, and in multiple statements to The Seattle Times declared the whale was better off in the tank at the Seaquarium than in Puget Sound, where the rest of her family struggles for survival. The southern-resident pods are critically endangered because of lack of food, vessel noise and pollution.
The Lummi Nation wants to retire Lolita to a sea pen in the Sound, where she would be fed live chinook and be in her home waters again, and in acoustic contact with her family.
The suit was brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, The Animal Legal Defense Fund and Orca Network.
The court ruled that at her age, estimated to be 51, the court could not identify a threat of serious harm to Lolita that could trigger a federal animal-welfare-law violation. The court also was not convinced there was a realistic way to return her to the wild without being harmed.
Jared Goodman, PETA Foundation deputy general counsel for animal law, said in a prepared statement, “This ruling sentences a highly intelligent, deeply lonely and distressed orca to a lifetime of physical and psychological harm, confined to a tiny concrete cell without family, friends or freedom.”
PETA is not giving up and will move forward with another lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture challenging the Seaquarium’s license, said David Perle, assistant media manager for PETA.
Material from The Miami Herald was used in this story.