(CN) – The decades-long captivity of Lolita, a killer whale at the Miami Seaquarium, is a violation of the Endangered Species Act and she must be released, animal rights activists say in a lawsuit.
In a complaint filed in the Miami Federal Court on Monday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Orca Network say the attraction located on Florida’s Virginia Key “confines Lolita – a highly intelligent, social and complex individual – to a small, shallow, and barren concrete tank, without adequate protection from the sun, and without a single orca companion.”
“For more than forty years,” the complaint continues, “Lolita has been unable to swim any meaningful distance, dive, forage, or carry out virtually any natural behaviors, and has been forced to spend the majority of her life at, or just below, the surface of the water, with only animals of other species with which she is not compatible.”
The plaintiffs contend these conditions are inhumane and amount to a long-term and continuing violation of the “take” prohibition of the Endangered Species Act.
Lolita, long the most popular attraction at Seaquarium, was captured in 1970 off the Washington state coast. The plaintiffs claim she was taken from a pod of whales that was designated as endangered, and therefore, her capture and captivity is illegal.
They want Seaquarium to be compelled to forfeit possession of Lolita and to transfer her to a sea pen, that more closely resembles her natural Pacific Ocean environment.
“Decades of abuse, miserable confinement, and chronic deprivation have cost Lolita everything that’s natural and important to her,” said PETA’s general counsel Jeffrey Kerr.
“PETA is taking action now to ensure that the Miami Seaquarium is held accountable for her suffering,” he said.
In a statement, Seaquarium said Lolita “remains healthy and thriving” after 45 years in its care, and that removing her from her current environment would be needlessly cruel.
The facility noted that Lolita has been the subject of several other lawsuits over the years, and that in each case those suits seeking her release have failed.
The Seaquarium said allegations like those made in the current lawsuit have been contradicted by the USDA, which administers the Animal Welfare Act, and has noted in letters and reports the facility’s care of Lolita complies with the Animal Welfare Act.
A 2011 lawsuit, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act, was dismissed by a federal judge in Miami in 2012. A lawsuit filed later that year, alleging violations of the Animal Welfare Act, was dismissed by another federal judge in 2014, and the dismissal was affirmed by the 11th Circuit in June 2015.
“Miami Seaquarium will continue to defend against these activist lawsuits and seek to protect the best interests of Lolita by keeping her at the home she has known … for 45 years,” the statement said. “Miami Seaquarium provides first-class care for Lolita.”
“Lolita is loved and exceptionally well cared for at Miami Seaquarium,” the statement continued. “We believe that her removal from the only home she has ever known, into a sea pen in Washington state (the end-goal of the activists), would be cruel and traumatic.”
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