Questions & Answers on the NOAA Fisheries 90 Day Finding on a Petition to include the Killer Whale Known as Lolita in the Endangered Species Act listing of Southern Resident Killer Whales (March 2013)

Q. Who is Lolita?
A. Lolita is a female killer whale captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, who currently resides at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida. Lolita is the last Southern Resident killer whale in captivity. When the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act on November 18, 2005, the distict population segment was defined as “whales from J, K, and L pods, wherever they are found wild, and not including Southern Resident killer whales placed in captivity prior to listing or their captive born progeny.”


Q. Why is NOAA Fisheries reviewing the petition to revise the endangered listing of Southern Resident killer whales to include Lolita?
A. Any person can petition the Secretary (of Interior or Commerce) to list or delist a species under the Endangered Species Act. Within 90 days after receiving a petition, to the maximum extent practicable, the Secretary must make a finding as to whether the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. If a petition is found to present such information, the Secretary must promptly start a review of the status of the species concerned.
On January 25, 2013 we received a petition submitted by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Orca Network, Howard Garrett, Shelby Proie, Karen Munro, and Patricia Sykes to revise the endangered listing of Southern Resident killer whales to include Lolita in the Endangered Species Act listing of the Southern Resident killer whales distinct population segment.


Q. What did NOAA Fisheries conclude about the information presented in the recently submitted petition?
A. We find that the petition, viewed in the context of information readily available in our files, presents scientific information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. The standard for determining whether a petition includes substantial information is if the amount of information presented would lead a reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted. The petition presents information about Lolita’s genetic heritage and consideration of captive individuals under the Endangered Species Act which we have determined meets this standard.


Q. Does this decision mean that you’re likely to include Lolita in the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment?
A.
No. It means only that we’ve determined that the petition presents enough substantial scientific and commercial information to indicate that the petitioned action may be warranted. Because the finding at the 12-month stage is based on a comprehensive review of all best available information, as compared to the narrow scope of review at the 90-day stage, which focuses on information set forth in the petition, this 90-day finding does not prejudge the outcome of the status review.


Q. What happens now that you’ve accepted the petition to include Lolita in the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment?
A.
There is currently a status review of the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment underway in response to a petition to delist the Southern Resident killer whales. To ensure that our status review is complete and based on the best available scientific and commercial information, we are soliciting new information from the public, governmental agencies, tribes, the scientific community, industry, environmental entities, and any other interested parties concerning Lolita’s genetic heritage and status.


Q. What will you do next in this Endangered Species Act petition process?
A.
We will coordinate our review of this petition with our ongoing review of a concurrent petition to delist the Southern Resident killer whales. We’re compiling and reviewing the available status information on Southern Resident killer whales. Within 12 months of receiving the petition, by January 25, 2014, we’ll make a determination on whether the petitioned action is warranted. If we propose to include Lolita in the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment, that action would be subject to public comment.


Q. Where can I learn more about Southern Resident killer whales?
A.
The killer whale (Orcinus orca), or orca, is found in all oceans. The Southern Resident killer whales are composed of J, K, and L pods. These whales are the "resident" type, fish-eating whales, spending specific periods each year in the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound. The Southern Residents feed mostly on salmon. We have information on the Endangered Species Act listing, status reviews, recovery planning and critical habitat posted on our killer whale webpage.