Captive orca Lolita can stay at Miami aquarium: U.S. appeals court

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

January 12, 2018

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Friday rejected efforts by animal rights advocates to force the Miami Seaquarium in Florida to release Lolita, a killer whale it has held in captivity for nearly half a century.

By a 3-0 vote, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami rejected claims by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and others that keeping Lolita in captivity violated the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The evidence, construed in the light most favorable to PETA, does not support the conclusion that the conditions of her captivity pose a threat of serious harm to Lolita,” the court said.

Friday’s decision upheld a lower court ruling. The lawsuit began in July 2015, two months after the National Marine Fisheries Service recognized whales such as Lolita as an endangered species.

PETA said it may appeal, and that the decision ignores current public sentiment about the suffering of captive orcas.

“This ruling sentences this 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,” Jared Goodman, director of animal law at the PETA Foundation, said in a statement.

The Seaquarium and its lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lolita, captured in 1970, is roughly 20 feet (6 meters) long and weighs about 8,000 pounds (3.6 tonnes), and has long been one the Seaquarium’s top attractions.

Critics raised 13 objections to her captivity, including the small size of Lolita’s tank, her lack of an orca companion since the death 38 years ago of her tank mate Hugo, stress and injuries caused by the white-sided dolphins she now lives with, and inadequate treatment by Seaquarium personnel.

But the appeals court said accepting critics’ “expansive” conception of illegal harm and harassment could upset the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s regulatory scheme to help ensure the humane treatment of captive animals used for exhibitions and research.

The Seaquarium kept Lolita after SeaWorld Entertainment Inc decided in 2016 to end its orca breeding programs and phase out killer whale shows.

A 2013 documentary, “Blackfish,” had depicted the captivity and exhibition of killer whales as cruel.

The appeals court ruled nine days after Bob Barker, the former host of “The Price Is Right” game show and animal rights advocate, called for Lolita’s release in a video posted on PETA’s Twitter account.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)

  • ranger bob

    OMG – our country is so divided. A house divided will fall (you know who said this).

    Can’t we find bigger issues that the treatment of some particular animal to rally behind?

    What about the homeless people … what about how we share the wealth in this county? geeezzzzz

  • Dan Taylor

    If she is released – would she be able to feed herself and take care of herself, defend herself? I agree she should have never been taken, but now she needs to stay and live out her life here!

  • James

    That is fuct though leaving it alone for the past 35 yrs. Intelligent, family bonded Apex predator of the entire ocean. Yeah fuct. I have zero to do with any org.

  • Talkie Tina

    I disagree. I think she can survive in the wild after 50 years of being hand fed.

    How hard is it to swim around and catch your own fish? Killer whales are probably smarter than humans.

    If you had been kept in prison for 50 years, hand fed, and then let loose, could you not figure out how to fish?

    • Griffin

      Since you comsider yourself to be so smart how about you just think about it for a moment. That orca isn’t physically capable of swimming the distance it takes to catch anything, it has absolutley no social standing in ANY group and would be attacked and pummeled by it own kind, to death. It’ s 50 years old for another thing. Any instinct to survive has been bred out of it. And unless YOU are 20 and raised in the wild , as INTELLIGENT as you think you are, I’d like to see you run down a deer, kill it, gut it, preserve it and eat it to survive. Except for the running down part, I HAVE done it and if I had to do it now at 62 …I would starve. Same goes for the orca. So bite me.

      • Talkie Tina

        Well I am 61, and I could do it if I had to.

  • Think 2 Moves Ahead

    People Eating Tasty Animals. My version of PETA. I do treat animals humanely, so hope this is seen as the light hearted fun as intended.

    • Robert E. Lee ca.

      Whale meat actually tastes pretty good.

  • AtomicFury

    I wish PETAphiles would get lives where they actually do something for humans. We have starving people living in cardboard boxes under street overpasses, and they’re worried about a captive mammal who isn’t starving and is attended to with its best interest in mind.

    Damned utopians…

    • Atikva

      It’s not for the animals’ best interest in mind that zoos and seaquariums keep them captive, it’s for profit. Lolita may not be as bad off as humans in cardboard boxes, but she didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol, she is innocent. Thanks to the leftists’ campaign a few decades ago, the vagrants cannot be forced indoors, forcibly fed or medically treated anymore, they are free, whereas Lolita is captive.

      • AtomicFury

        I get all that, but the welfare of animals should always take a back seat to that of any law-abiding human.

        • Atikva

          Law abiding humans, is that what you think the bums are? Does law condone people who choose to destroy their health, burn their brain cells, give up controlling their life, endanger the well being and the security of their fellow men, live in filth like animals deprived of reason, bring despair to their families and waste a heck of a lot of taxpayers money in vain? Who among animals would cause such havoc and damage to their species or ours?

          Between an innocent animal captured for profit and an unredeemable guy who chose to wreck his life and that of many others, sorry, but I’d rather help the former first.

          • AtomicFury

            Who promoted you to godhood?

            It’s no great revelation that I’m a recovering addict who last year celebrated 13 years clean. I was the type of functional addict, but could just have easily fallen to the point of living in the street. There’s plenty more “bottoms” for me to hit, not the least of which could result in death. So pardon me for taking your heartlessly cruel response more seriously than you do.

            Show me a dog who will entirely of their own volition, get up and pay their respects to a deceased owner. Show me a dog who wouldn’t become codependent of their next owner. Show me an orca who hasn’t turned on their carers and killed them.

            I’ve rescued dogs, cats, birds and rabbits. I don’t think animals should be abused, but they aren’t humans. But tell me why the redeem-ability of an animal takes precedence over a human being – especially one who is in a desperate spiral of self-destructive despair.

            The better question is, how does Lolita’s inability to avoid capture fundamentally or morally differ from a human being’s inability to avoid the trappings of constant drug use?

            You may have your reasons for hating people, but your allegiance to animals who know only to depend on you for their security and food has done nothing to make you redeemed.

          • Atikva

            I don’t hate ‘people’, and I have no particular allegiance to animals. I never aspired to ‘godhood’ as you say, and I don’t expect to be ‘redeemed’ either. I am just using common sense in affirming that humans who enjoy freedom and who choose to discard it and ruin their own lives (and that of their families) are responsible for what happens to them.

            It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be helped when they finally accept help, but in the meantime that shouldn’t prevent us from releasing innocent animals captured and imprisoned for profit who never renounced their own freedom or harm themselves.

            You are the one who chose to make a parallel between the two. The priority would have been clear had you talked about innocent people such as abused children or abandoned old people for instance, versus captured animals for profit.

          • AtomicFury

            Well, I can agree to disagree.

        • Kurt

          Atomic – I don’t think you do get it. You’re NEVER going to stop it. There will ALWAYS be someone, somewhere who needs help. So by your stupid logic we should sit on our asses and just let evil happen because some human somewhere needs help. OF COURSE a human takes precedence over an animal, that’s not what’s happening here, though. You choose to help the homeless. Great. Knock yourself out with that. We’re ALL humans, so we’re all unique and different. Everyone chooses for themselves how to live their life. You choose to help out there, we choose to help out here. WTF is wrong with that?! And why do you castigate others just because they make different choices than you?! You liberals always amaze me with your hypocrisy. You scream diversity…except when it diverges from YOU.

          • AtomicFury

            I could be wrong (a refreshing change) but you strike me as the type of person who cannot differentiate the premise of another persons opinion from an exact interpretation of your own beliefs.

            In other words, there’s no such thing as a gray area.

            It’s quite common for such people to insert suppositions before anything is established because it makes it easier to spew some verbiage that they want to get off their chest.

            Then, to reveal your immaturity, you add things unrelated to the overall topic in the form of attempted insults.

            You don’t have permission to insult me. But, it’s your fingertips, your keyboard and your time.

            Now read carefully. I’m not against the humane treatment of animals. I don’t care if you want to protect every animal or eat every one of them. I don’t care if you think my concern for junkies is noble or not. The point is that in the list of importance, human preservation is most important. That doesn’t mean animals are worthless (which is what you’re trying to pin on me). That’s why laws are written to protect other species.

            For your information, I consider myself neither liberal or conservative. Instead, I’m some sort of hybrid that I haven’t given a name to yet. I register under the party for which candidate I’m going to vote for. I’ll criticize liberals and conservatives as I see fit. If the people who know me best knew you called me a liberal, they’d laugh so hard they’d have trouble breathing.

            If you don’t like the way I respond to you, it’s because your asinine jumps to confusion (I’m well aware of the usual phrase) have earned you a bronze medal in the internet idiot olympics.

    • Kurt

      Soooooo, we can’t pick and choose who/what to devote our time and efforts to? We ALL must help the homeless and no one else and nothing else? So evil must be allowed to occur because the homeless should be helped first and until NO ONE is homeless then all other evil must not be confronted? I hate this stupid, whiny, “oh but the homeless” crap. STFU.

      • AtomicFury

        You can do whatever the hell you want to do. But I’m done with this topic.

  • Talkie Tina

    Free Lolita. She is a killer whale. The only predator after her is humans.

    • ericrrr

      If a predator human was after her, she would have been diner long long ago.

      • Talkie Tina

        Humans don’t want to eat her, just stick her in Sea World, in a small pool, and make millions off of her.

        The rest of the creatures on earth, she can handle.

    • Dan Taylor

      Urine idiot…

  • Mune Shadowe

    Please keep wasting the money a bunch of suckers gave to you….

  • Ed L

    PETA is normals full of it but in cases of creatures in captivity let them go. Don’t like zoos or places like seaworld

    • ericrrr

      These places raise awareness and educated people about animals.

      • Talkie Tina

        Yes, but Sea World was forced to stop with the killer whale shows. The Wild Animal Park in San Diego was also forced to stop parading the elephants around for show.

        Once a trainer is killed, the animals have spoken.

        • It was the people who spoke, because they didn’t want to see these type of shows. The animals haven’t “spoken.” The animals were just being animals.

          • Talkie Tina

            Yes, people spoke, but no one listened until the animals chimed in. look it up. An elephant at the Wild Animal Park stomped on the trainers head one day, during the show, right out of the blue, with an audience watching.

            The killer whale dragged the trainer down, by her ponytail one day, right out of the blue, with an audience watching.

            The animals are sentient beings, and just got fed up.

            And, we humans actually respected it. Mostly.

    • A whale or other animal who has been dependent on humans for food for so long would not make it back in the wild. They would be following boats around expecting to be fed and likely would be killed or die because they couldn’t adapt. There’s a reason animal rehabilitators keep the animal with as little human contact as possible.

  • Lolita is still better off than an aborted baby human.