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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Animal rights activists have been very vocal, even serving as literal walking billboards, in their fight for the release Lolita the killer whale from the Miami Seaquarium where she has lived for most of her life.
Lolita has lived in captivity at the marine park since 1970. In 2012, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other groups sued claiming the tank that holds Lolita violates USDA standards to renew the Seaquarium’s license to operate under the Animal Welfare Act.
“Lolita is being held in the smallest orca tank in America, she has no shelter from the hot sun in Miami, she has no company of a single other orca. And all of those violate the basic standards of the Animal Welfare Act,” PETA attorney Delcianna Winders told CBS4’s Natalia Zea.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit in March 2014. On Tuesday, attorneys for the animal activists were back in court trying to get that dismissal overturned.
Winders argued that the U.S. District Court should have reviewed information gathered in a lawsuit against the Seaquarium alleging animal rights abuses, before approving the US Department of Agriculture’s renewal of the Seaquarium’s exhibitors license in 2012.
“It’s absurd to give out licenses where you know there are blatant violations going on and that undermines the purpose of the animal welfare act,” said Winders.
Lawyers for the Seaquarium and the agriculture department countered that the law does not require proof of compliance with federal animal welfare laws when deciding whether to renew a license.
“This case was previously heard in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and that lower court found the arguments of the animal rights groups to be legally and factually insufficient. We are confident that this appeals court will rule in the same manner,” said the Seaquarium’s General Manager Andrew Hertz.
The matter is now in the hands of a three judge appellate panel which will determine whether a lower court should review the allegations against the Seaquarium, and determine whether their license renewal can be overturned. The decision could take several months.
Separately, the federal government has said Lolita deserves the same protections as a small population of endangered orcas that live in Washington state waters. However, that decision doesn’t affect Lolita’s care at Seaquarium.
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