Tourism & Cruises

PETA, animal groups sue USDA over Seaquarium’s killer whale Lolita

Lolita, the killer whale who has been the star attraction at Miami Seaquarium for nearly 50 years.
Lolita, the killer whale who has been the star attraction at Miami Seaquarium for nearly 50 years. Miami Herald Staff

The campaign to free Miami Seaquarium’s star whale, Lolita, is going to court again.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. district court in North Carolina by several animal rights groups, the plaintiffs argue the U.S. Department of Agriculture is violating the Animal Welfare Act by granting a license to the Seaquarium’s new parent company, Palace Entertainment.

Under the act, licenses don’t transfer after a change in ownership (Palace bought the Seaquarium in 2014) and can only be granted to facilities in compliance with USDA regulations, which plaintiffs argue the Seaquarium is not.

We are asking the court to strip this deplorable facility of its wrongfully obtained license and put Lolita on the path to freedom after more than 45 years of captivity and exploitation.

Jared Goodman, PETA foundation director of animal law

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), nonprofits the Animal Defense Fund and the Orca Network, and the network’s director, Howard Garrett, argue the issuance of the license means Lolita will remain in her same pen, which they allege is “woefully inadequate.”

“Miami Seaquarium’s new owner simply does not qualify for a permit for this facility, when the orca confined there is suffering in an illegally small concrete pit,” said Jared Goodman, PETA foundation director of animal law. “We are asking the court to strip this deplorable facility of its wrongfully obtained license and put Lolita on the path to freedom after more than 45 years of captivity and exploitation.”

This is the second time the groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the USDA for issuing a license to the Miami Seaquarium. A very similar 2012 lawsuit was eventually dismissed by a federal judge in Miami and an appeals court last year. In July, the groups against filed a lawsuit claiming the Seaquarium is violating the Endangered Species Act by keep Lolita confined in what they describe as “abusive conditions.”

The Seaquarium has maintained that Lolita is well cared for and her removal to a sea pen in Washington state, which the animal groups advocate for, would be traumatic for the nearly 50-year-old orca who has been at the Seaquarium since 1970.

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