After 44 years, Miami orca may edge closer to freedom

Sun Jan 25, 2015 9:15am EST
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By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - Lolita, a killer whale that has lived in a tank at Miami's Seaquarium for 44 years, could move a step closer to freedom this week.

After decades of campaigning, animal rights activists hope U.S. officials will include the orca on a list of endangered whales that frequent the waters where she was captured, off Washington state.

That decision could trigger a lawsuit by activists who want to fly 7,000-pound (3.2-tonne) Lolita across the country and prepare her for release into the wild.

About 1,000 protesters gathered outside Miami Seaquarium this month to demand the release of Lolita, who performs in shows seven days a week and was the subject of the 2003 video documentary "Lolita: Slave to Entertainment."

Officials at Miami Seaquarium, where the orca has lived since 1970, say the release plan is dangerous and Lolita would not survive in the wild after so many years in captivity.

"This is a non-releasable animal," said curator Robert Rose. If freed, "she’s going to die without question."

Public opposition to keeping whales in theme parks for public entertainment has mounted since a 2013 documentary "Blackfish." The film detailed how whales are captured and described the killing of a trainer by an orca at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.

Lolita was captured in August 1970 in waters about 50 miles northwest of Seattle, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She was believed to be about 10 years old at the time.   Continued...

Lolita the Killer Whale is seen between shows at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami January 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity