Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lolita, The Captive Puget Sound Orca, Gets Endangered Status

Wallie Funk
AP Photo
In this Aug. 8, 1970, photo provided by Wallie Funk, members of a pod of orca whales are held captive in Penn Cove, in the waters off Whidbey Island, Wash.

A well-known former resident of the Pacific Northwest will be getting special designation from the federal government. Lolita, a killer whale captured from Penn Cove off Whidbey Island, is now a member of an endangered species along with her wild cousins.

Lolita is the last known survivor of the many orcas captured from the Salish Sea in 1970. She has lived since then at the Miami Seaquarium. When Puget Sound orcas were later designated an endangered species, captive whales were excluded.

Now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced it will include Lolita in the endangered population after all.

It is a victory for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation and others who petitioned for the listing. But it may not actually affect Lolita’s life much at all.

“It is not a decision to free Lolita,” said Will Stelle, administrator of the west coast region of NOAA Fisheries. “It is not a decision that she should be freed. It doesn’t have anything directly to do with those issues that command so much public interest.”

The Seaquarium would likely need permits if it wanted to transfer Lolita or change the conditions of her captivity. But for now, said NOAA officials, they don’t have to do anything.  

Activists rallied last month in both Miami and on Seattle’s Alki beach in favor of releasing Lolita back into the wild.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.