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Groups accuse federal agency of favoring industry in a 2005 decision to exempt Lolita from an endangered species designation that covered the rest of her pod.
A novel legal campaign is being expanded by animal rights activists seeking to free killer whales situated in marine attractions in Florida.
The National Marine Fisheries Service was sued by two groups Thursday, charging the agency of unlawfully carving out in 2005 an exemption that denied Lolita, an orca that has been living and performing at the Miami Seaquarium for 40 years, protection under the endangered species law.
Jeffery Kerr, the general counsel for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which filed the federal suit in the state of Washington with the Animal Legal Defense fund, said that the regulatory exemption is unlawful. He said, “This regulatory ‘gift’ to an industry notorious for making orcas’ lives miserable is not only incredibly cruel but blatantly illegal.”
PETA also filed last month a lawsuit against SeaWorld Orlando, arguing that the attraction is keeping its 5 killer whales in conditions that defy the 13th Amendment ban on slavery. SeaWorld dismissed the allegations as baseless.
When asked for the agency’s comment, Christine Patrick, the Fisheries Service spokeswoman, said that the agency does not discuss lawsuits.
The Seaquarium also refused to comment on legal issues but Andrew Hertz, the attraction’s general manager, issued a statement defending the care being given to Lolita, as well as the orca’s living conditions. He also criticized the goals and tactics of activists. He added that scientists have agreed that the life of Lolita in the wild would be in jeopardy.