Lolita's excellent attorneys have cleared another legal hurdle on her long road home.
The wheels of justice grind slowly, but progress is underway. In essence, the National Marine Fisheries Service has now officially agreed to consider whether Lolita should be included with her family, the Southern Resident orca community, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. There will be a comment period while they decide if they should include her, then if they decide to do so, there will be another comment period.
The comment period is now open; instructions for commenting are given in the Federal Register Notice above.
Here is the joint news release sent out by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, who have partnered their legal offices very effectively to help Lolita, bringing together a highly qualified team of legal experts help make Lolita's retirement in her home waters a reality. Orca Network is a petitioner in this effort, and we can't emphasize enough how thrilling it is to see this level of professional dedication helping Lolita.
For Immediate Release:
David Perle 202-483-7382, ext. 2194; DavidP@peta.org (PETA)
Lisa Franzetta 707-795-2533, ext. 1015; email@example.com (ALDF)
FEDS GRANT APPROVAL FOR LEGAL EFFORTS TO FREE LOLITA TO PROCEED
Agency Must Now Decide Whether to Offer Captive Orca the Same Protection Afforded Her Wild Kin
Miami - The National Marine Fisheries Service has found that PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), and the Orca Network have presented "substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that" their petition to have the solitary orca Lolita included in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of the Southern Resident orcas, the family she was taken from more than 40 years ago, "may be warranted." The agency will now have nine months to determine whether Lolita's unlawful and unexplained exclusion from her family's listing should be reversed. The cruel exclusion has allowed the Miami Seaquarium to hold Lolita in the smallest orca tank in North America without the constraints of the ESA, which prohibits such harm and harassment.
"There is simply no lawful justification for excluding Lolita from the Endangered Species Act's protection," says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Delcianna Winders. "The National Marine Fisheries Service's decision is an important step toward ensuring that Lolita will finally receive the same protection offered to her family members, who are waiting for her in the ocean."
"Lolita has swum circles in a tiny, barren tank for over 40 years," says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. "It is time for the government to grant her the protection she has been denied for many lonely decades."
PETA, ALDF, and the Orca Network want Lolita to be released into a seaside sanctuary that is waiting for her in her home waters and, if possible, back into her family pod. In the wild, Southern Resident orcas often spend their entire lives with their mothers. Lolita recognized her pod's calls decades after being captured, and her mother is still thriving at more than 80 years of age.
For more information, please visit PETA.org and ALDF.org.
April 28, 2013 (San Juan Journal)
The "Free Lolita" movement has gained a foothold.
Eighteen years after Howard Garrett, Ken Balcomb, and then-Governor Mike Lowry [note: should also include Sec. of State Ralph Munro] initiated the movement to return L-pod member Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium to her native Northwest waters, the National Marine Fisheries Service accepted a petition to consider whether Lolita should be included as part of the Endangered Species Act listing of Southern Resident killer whales, now numbered at 84 - plus Lolita.
Jared Goodman, an attorney with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which spearheaded the ESA petition, said that Lolita's continued captivity is illegal, as well as inhumane.
Howard Garrett, chairman of Orca Network, says the upcoming review by NMFS may be the best chance that Lolita has to return to her home waters. Garrett said Orca Network and Ken Balcomb's Center for Whale Research have prepared an extensive plan for rehabilitating Lolita in Kanaka Bay, on the west side of San Juan Island, and possibly returning her to her pod - though he adds that other supporters are prepared to care for Lolita "indefinitely" if necessary.
A division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, NMFS must complete its review by January of 2014, after publishing a proposed rule, expected next week, for conducting its review and accepting comments and other information from interested parties on both sides of the issue.
That still won't end the controversy. The Fisheries Service explained on its website: "By January 25, 2014, we'll make a determination on whether the petitioned action is warranted. If we propose to include Lolita in the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment, that action would be subject to public comment."
April 27, 2013 (Victoria Times Colonist)
A small victory has been scored by animal rights organizations fighting to free Lolita, a member of the endangered southern resident killer whales.
The U.S. federal government has accepted a petition from groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, asking that Lolita be included in the U.S endangered species listing.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network said acceptance of the petition is a step in the right direction.
"But it's only one hurdle and there are so many still on the track ahead of us," he said.
It seems logical that, if Lolita is eventually included in the listing, she would be freed, Garrett said.
"They can't hold a member of an endangered species captive for business reasons," he said.
Meanwhile, yet another legal effort is underway to help bring Lolita home.
As the ESA case above winds its way through the courts, yet another case is also pending to challenge the annual permit granted by the USDA to the Seaquarium to continue to display Lolita at the whale stadium despite multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act (the size, the lack of protection from the sun, and her lack of companionship).
Please consider a tax-deductible contribution to help Orca Network continue this work for Lolita HERE. Thank you!