Captive killer whale to be added to endangered species list

Story highlights

  • Lolita is 49 and has been with the Miami Seaquarium, which says it intends to keep her there
  • Animal rights activists still see the decision as a victory and hope to have the killer whale released

(CNN)The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will soon add Miami Seaquarium's killer whale, Lolita, to the endangered species list, but nothing will change for the longtime Miami entertainer.

At 49, the senior whale will be added to the endangered listing for the Southern Resident Killer Whales found in the waters off Seattle, where Lolita was captured in 1970.
The Southern Resident population was depleted between 1965 and 1975 because of captures conducted for marine parks, according to NOAA Fisheries. The population's numbers remain low due to such environmental factors as pollution, oil spills and noise from passing vessels, NOAA says. As a result, the Southern Resident killer whales were added to the endangered species 10 years ago.
    Animal activists, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Animal Legal Defense Fun and the Orca Network see this ruling as a victory.
    "It's Lolita's chance of freedom," said Jared Goodman, PETA's director of animal law. "It's a huge step."
    Activists petitioned NOAA to include Lolita to the Southern Resident endangered list, saying they never had the right to separate her from designation for the Seattle killer whale population.
    About 17,000 comments were submitted to the federal agency in support of the endangered designation for Lolita.
    Animal rights activists want Lolita eventually released back into the wild if she can be rehabilitated to survive on her own after 40 years of captivity where she is hand-fed instead of capturing her own food.