Southern Resident Killer Whale - Lolita - Included in Endangered Listing

February 10, 2015: NOAA Fisheries published a Federal Register notice that includes Lolita, a captive killer whale at the Miami Seaquarium, in the endangered species listing for the Southern Resident killer whales that spend much of the year in the inland waters of Washington State and British Columbia. While Lolita will now share the endangered listing status of the population she came from, the decision does not impact her residence at the Miami Seaquarium.

Lolita was captured in 1970 in Puget Sound before her population was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. At the time, captive members of the population did not share the endangered listing status. NOAA Fisheries received a petition in 2013 to include captive whales as part of the Southern Resident killer whales endangered species listing.

Currently, the Miami Seaquarium is not proposing to move Lolita. Any future plans to move or release Lolita would require a permit from NOAA Fisheries and would undergo rigorous scientific review. Releasing a whale that has spent most of its life in captivity raises many concerns, including: disease transmission, the ability of released animals to adequately find food for themselves, difficulty in social integration, and that behavioral patterns developed in captivity could impact wild animals. Previous attempts to release captive killer whales and dolphins have often been unsuccessful and some have ended tragically with the death of the released animal. 

NOAA Fisheries remains committed to protecting and recovering Southern Resident killer whales, an imperiled population of fewer than 80 whales that primarily eat fish and travel in social groups called pods. They are the subject of extensive research including an ongoing project using satellite tracking to better understand their feeding patterns and habitat needs.

“We are focusing time, resources and attention on the future of the Southern Resident killer whales population,” says Will Stelle, regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region. “NOAA Fisheries and our many partners are working very hard to learn more about these endangered whales and to protect them and their habitats, which is the only way we’re going to recover this population.”

Last year NOAA Fisheries released a comprehensive report summarizing the last 10 years of research and conservation of Southern Resident killer whales and outlining NOAA’s research and management priorities to help with their long-term recovery.

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January 24, 2014: We announced a 12-month finding and proposed rule to revise the endangered listing of the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment to include Lolita, a female killer whale captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, who resides at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida. The notice proposes to amend the ESA listing of Southern Resident killer whales by removing the exclusion for captive members of the population and opened a public comment period that ended on March 28, 2014.

Comments received on the 12-month finding on the Lolita petition are posted to Regulations.gov. In the "Search" box, enter the docket number, "NOAA-NMFS-2013-0056-1841" and click the "Public Submission" box under the Document Type heading on the left side of the screen.

Apr. 29, 2013: We accepted a petition to include the captive killer whale known as Lolita in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of Southern Resident killer whales. We are soliciting scientific and commercial information about Lolita's status to ensure that our ongoing status review is comprehensive. Acceptance of this petition doesn't presuppose any particular outcome.

Comments received on the 90-day finding on the Lolita petition are posted to Regulations.gov. In the "Search" box, enter the docket number, "NOAA-NMFS-2013-0056" and click on the "Search" button. Click on the "Public Submission" box under "Document Type