MIAMI — Activists are renewing their efforts to release a killer whale named Lolita back into the Pacific Ocean.
The 7,000-pound, wild-born orca Lolita has been the main draw at Miami Seaquarium for nearly 44 years. Millions from around the world have come to see her perform tricks for fish.
Activists have tried over the past two decades to "Liberate Lolita," but the efforts have all fizzled. Now they are waging legal battles on two fronts in a seemingly last-ditch campaign to find a way to get Lolita back into the wild, the Miami Herald reports.
"I want more than anything to see Lolita out of that little pool they have there and back in her native waters. She certainly deserves it after all the things she's gone through," said Karen Ellick of Washington state, an activist who is a party in both legal fights.
The Seaquarium refutes the idea that Lolita would be better off returning to the wild. Curator Robert Rose said the best place for Lolita to spend the remaining years of her life is where she is now, receiving first-class medical care, nutritious, high-quality food and the staff's constant care.
"To us, Lolita is part of our family," he told the Herald.
Lolita has survived more than two decades longer than most large marine mammals in captivity. Returning her to the wild at this stage, some experts say, would be very difficult. She would have to learn how to live and hunt for food in the wild again, and those skills can be difficult to learn at an older age.
In one legal case, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service for Lolita to be included on an endangered species list last year. The petition requests that she become a member of the Southern Resident killer whales, a population that roams coastal sites from central California north to southeast Alaska.
PETA also launched a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012 challenging the agency's "absurd decision to renew the Seaquarium's federal Animal Welfare Act license." PETA animal law director Jared Goodman said the Seaquarium is not in compliance with federal law. He said Lolita's tank is too small, she is not protected from the burning sun and she does not have the company of another orca.
The case is now in the hands of a federal court in Miami.