Lawsuit Over Cruelty to Endangered Orca at Seaquarium Returns to Court
PETA, ALDF, and the Orca Network Seek to Enforce Endangered Species Act Protections for Lolita
Miami – On Wednesday, PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Orca Network, and Orca Network Director Howard Garrett will argue at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit courthouse in Miami their appeal of the trial court’s dismissal of their Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit against the Miami Seaquarium.
The parties will argue that holding Lolita the orca without the company of others of her kind, with incompatible animals, and in a cramped tank with no protection from the hot sun is an unlawful “take”—i.e., that she is being harmed and harassed—in violation of the ESA. The appeal seeks to overturn the district court’s ruling that ESA violations occur only when a protected captive animal’s survival is “gravely” threatened.
“The Endangered Species Act prohibits harming and harassing protected animals, not just placing them in imminent life-threatening danger,” says PETA Foundation Director of Animal Law Jared Goodman. “PETA’s appeal argues that this orca must be freed from the daily harm of confinement in the smallest orca tank in the world.”
“Highly intelligent and socially complex animals like Lolita deserve strong legal protections, including the ESA,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Until our laws recognize that animals are not merely ‘property,’ we will fight relentlessly to uphold the protections they do have.”
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—notes that since the lawsuit was filed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General confirmed that the Miami Seaquarium tank holding Lolita may not meet minimum size requirements under the federal Animal Welfare Act. The litigation against the facility revealed that Lolita shares the tiny tank with incompatible dolphins, who routinely scrape her skin with their teeth, and that she has repeatedly exhibited abnormal behavior related to stress, such as rubbing her body against tank walls.
PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Orca Network, and countless concerned advocates have pushed for years for Lolita to be retired from performing and transferred to a seaside sanctuary in her home waters off Washington’s San Juan Islands, where she could interact with her family pod, from whom she was taken more than 47 years ago.