MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — A petition proposed Friday is trying to get Lolita the same status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that covers all other Southern Resident orcas, meaning she could be retired from performing.
Now, federal officials are seeking public comment on the proposal to have the captive killer whale included in the endangered-species listing for Puget Sound orcas.
Activists consider the announcement Friday by the National Marine Fisheries Service another step toward releasing the whale that was captured in 1970 and is now at the Miami Seaquarium.
The federal government notes in the proposed amendment to the Endangered Species Act listing that releasing Lolita to the wild is not a guaranteed result of this change, because in some cases it’s safer to keep the endangered animal in captivity.
Lolita’s fellow orcas spend most of their time in Washington’s Puget Sound and British Columbia waters. Lolita is a member of the L pod, or family of killer whales.
The federal government has listed these Southern Resident orcas as endangered species since 2005. The wild population numbers about 85.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Orca Network and other animal-rights groups filed a petition to encourage a rule change.
“Lolita should never have been excluded from the Endangered Species Act in the first place, and now the government has righted that wrong,” said Jeffrey Kerr, general counsel to PETA in a statement.
Steven Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said his group and others are doing everything they can to get Lolita back to her family and her habitat.