Feds Could Set Lolita the Killer Whale Free


     WASHINGTON (CN) - After a 90-day review, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service announced that a petition to include Lolita, a captive female killer whale, as part of the endangered Southern Resident distinct population segment (DPS) of killer whales, may be warranted.
     Lolita has been held in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida since she was captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, according to the 90-day petition finding. That population was designated an endangered DPS in 2005.
     The petition was submitted by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Orca Network and various individuals.
     The petition includes a legal argument on the "applicability of the ESA to captive members of endangered species," the action noted. The agency's 2005 DPS designation stated that it "consists of whales from J, K and L pods, wherever they are found in the wild, and not including Southern Resident killer whales placed in captivity prior to listing or their captive born progeny," the recent finding quoted.
     The Orca Network's 18-year old "Free Lolita" movement may have "gained a foothold" at last, according to the group's press release, but many hurdles remain. The petitioners want to possibly return the whale to her home waters, and have "prepared an extensive plan for rehabilitating Lolita," but also acknowledge that supporters are prepared to care for her "indefinitely" if needed.
     A positive 90-day finding does not indicate that a petition has a high probability for listing success, merely that the petition presents enough information to indicate that further study is needed. The agency will now conduct a 12-month status review on this petition.
     The agency is concurrently reviewing another petition that has challenged the Southern Resident DPS designation and requests scientific and commercial information regarding the Lolita petition and the DPS review by June 28.