U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

PETA Fails in Suit to Release Captive Orca

Lolita, the killer whale, will remain in captivity.

That's the decision of the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Miami Seaquarium. The animal rights group and others claimed that Lolita should be freed under the Endangered Species Act.

The appeals court said PETA did not prove that captivity posed a serious threat to the whale. It will not be a sequel to "Free Willy."

Not in Danger

Animal rights advocates sued to free Lolita in 2015 after the National Marine Fisheries Services said the orcas are endangered. But a federal district judge ruled against them, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

"The evidence, construed in the light most favorable to PETA, does not support the conclusion that the conditions of her captivity pose a threat of serious harm to Lolita," the appeals court said.

Lolita, who was captured in 1970, is one of the top attractions at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida. She is about 20 feet long and weighs about 8,000 pounds.

"Distressed Orca"

Criticizing the aquarium and the appeals court's decision, PETA said it may appeal.

"This ruling sentences this highly intelligent, deeply lonely, and distressed orca to a lifetime of physical and psychological harm, confined to a tiny concrete cell without family, friends, or freedom," said Jared Goodman, director of animal law at the PETA Foundation.

According to reports, Lolita has lived in captivity for nearly half a century. She has been alone in her tank for 38 years.

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