January 24 NOAA Fisheries proposed a rule to grant Lolita equal status with her family as a member of an endangered species, pending a 2-month comment period before it is made final.
Now our challenge is to persuade NOAA Fisheries to overcome the beliefs promulgated to serve their own interests by the combined forces of the entire captive orca industry over the past four decades that captive orcas can never be returned to their native waters because it could kill them or could harm their wild conspecifics (family).
So we are asking all supporters of our proposal for Lolita's retirement to submit comments to NOAA Fisheries along these lines:
The comment period - to help persuade NOAA Fisheries to not only follow through and grant Lolita's inclusion as a member of her family, but to allow her to return to her home - began January 27. You can make your comments at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0056-1841.
Even if/when she is finally determined to be a member of her family under the ESA, if NOAA Fisheries believes her health or her family's health could be harmed by her return to her native waters they don't have to allow her to be retired. We have drafted some basic points to make here to clarify those issues:
3 essential points to make:
1. There is no significant risk to Lolita in any stage of Orca Network's proposal for Lolita's retirement in her native waters.
a. Transport of orcas according to established protocols is commonly done and has never resulted in serious health issues;
b. Immersion of captive marine mammals in their native waters is described as therapeutic in veterinary literature;
c. The initial immersion is likely to be followed by exploration of the seapen environs, and heightened energy and metabolic strength, as demonstrated by Keiko upon immersion in Icelandic waters;
d. Her ability to catch and eat wild fish is likely to begin to resume in a matter of weeks or months, again as demonstrated by Keiko.
2. A thorough examination will be conducted by a team of veterinarians and pathologists prior to transport to detect any potential communicable diseases. Assuming there are not, there will be no significant risk to any members of the Southern Resident Community as a result of Lolita's return to her native waters.
Conclusion: there is no harm to Lolita or her family involved in returning her to her home waters.
3. Remaining in captivity will result in continuing mental and physical stresses and health issues.
a. Abundant evidence, including peer-reviewed scientific publications, indicate that captivity increases mortality rates for orcas;
b. Due to her loneliness from living without the companionship of another orca for over three decades, and due to her exposure to the midday Miami sun, and due to the extremely small size of the tank that has been her only environs for over four decades, she is continually suffering as long as she remains in captivity;
c. Despite Lolita's unlikely good health at over 45 years of age, she is still subject to the adverse effects of captivity on her emotional, mental and physical health.
Conclusion: remaining in captivity DOES constitute real harm to Lolita, and given her relatively good health notwithstanding her conditions, she is an excellent candidate for return to her native waters for retirement under human care in a seapen, and potentially for eventual full release.