SEATTLE – A former Washington orca now living in Florida might have a chance to return to her native waters.
Lolita has been performing tricks at the Miami Seaquarium for 43 years – and today is the last day for public comments about whether she gets a shot at retirement.
Lolita was captured off the Washington coast in 1970. Howard Garrett, board president of the Orca Network, says Lolita’s family, including the orca many believe to be her 83-year-old mother, is still alive.
He says animal welfare groups have been working for years to gain Lolita’s release and return to the Northwest.
“Lolita would be a good candidate for a lot of reasons,” Garrett maintains. “She’s in good health – which is, you know, amazing, startling, statistically that she has survived this long, much less in good health – but also because we know her family.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is accepting public comments about Lolita’s release, but only until 9 p.m. Pacific time at regulations.gov.
The proposal would give her protected status along with a list of endangered non-captive killer whales.
In a written statement, the Miami Seaquarium says, “It would be irresponsible, reckless, and cruel to treat Lolita’s life as an experiment and jeopardize her health and safety…”
Garrett refutes that, as well as other claims that Lolita should remain in captivity. “They don’t understand how orcas naturally live, and the family that Lolita was taken from,” he stresses. “They have little to no experience even watching orcas, much less studying them and understanding their natural history.”
Garrett says orcas are resilient, strong and adaptable. He maintains a plan to bring Lolita to a sea pen close to her family off the coast will prove successful, and predicts her relatives will welcome her back into the pod.
Garrett explains that orca families still use the same language, despite being apart for decades.
Photo of Lolita courtesy of Orca Network
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