Today, NOAA Fisheries made a ground-breaking decision to include Lolita into the Endangered Species Act listing of Southern Resident Killer Whales. Lolita is a female killer whale who was captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, and is currently at Miami Seaquarium.
On January 24, 2014 NOAA Fisheries announced a 12-month finding and proposal to revise and amend the ESA listing by removing the exclusion for captive members. The proposal was open for public comment through March 28, 2014.
According to today's final rule:
We have determined that captive members of the Southern Resident killer whale population should be included in the listed Southern Resident killer whale DPS. This rule amends the regulatory language of the listing to remove the exclusion for captive members of the DPS.
DATES: This final rule becomes effective on [Insert date 90 days from the date of publication in the FEDERAL REGISTER].
With a 90 day window before the rule goes into effect, all eyes will be on Miami Seaquarium.
More information about the decision is explained in NOAA's press release including:
NOAA Fisheries received many public comments on the proposal to list Lolita as endangered along with the Southern Resident population. Most of the comments favored including Lolita in the endangered listing, and many also urged that Lolita be returned to the Pacific Northwest and eventually released into the wild.
Currently, the Miami Seaquarium is not proposing to move Lolita. While issues concerning release into the wild are not related to this Endangered Species Act listing decision, any future plan to move or release Lolita would require a permit from NOAA Fisheries and would undergo rigorous scientific review.
Lolita's future is still uncertain. Today's decision DOES NOT mean that she will be released back to her home waters just yet. Legal proceeding can now commence on both sides of the issue with a variety of options to consider.
Orca Network's Howard Garrett told Ocean Advocate News:
The whole issue is so unprecedented and so dynamic, with changing societal values and multiple interpretations of the meaning of the laws that nobody really knows what will happen.
Ocean Advocate News will continue to report the latest in Lolita's story. Stay tuned.