Lolita is the name of an Orca whale who is currently residing in a Florida Aquarium after being captured in the Puget Sound by whale hunters 44 years ago. The government is now pushing to have Lolita retroactively protected under the Endangered Species Act and returned to Washington waters, giving her the same protection that killer whales in the Puget Sound have today.
The return of Lolita could lead to re-evaluations of other endangered species currently kept in captivity by zoos and aquariums, as well as the conditions of such captivity. While Killer whales are very social animals, making Lolita’s isolation all the more sad, the aquarium’s concern is that releasing a killer whale after such a long period of captivity “has the potential to injure or kill not only the particular animal, but also the wild populations of that same species,” a quote they attribute to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Lynne Barre, a branch chief for protected resources at the National Marine Fisheries Service, says that such things won’t be clear until a full analysis of Lolita’s specific situation is conducted. The good news is that the proposal seems to be another signal that the government is re-examining its treatment of captive animals under the endangered species act, a trend which already includes a heightened protection for captive chimpanzees who face the possibility of being used for research. It’s good to know that the treatment of captive animals has a close eye on it, at least, as the helplessness of their situation puts them in a position to be exploited. Hopefully the government’s attention towards them will continue to render itself as protection.