Make a Splash: Free Lolita!

The show is designed to make people believe Lolita is having fun.

Meet Lolita: an intelligent and sensitive orca, confined to the smallest orca tank in North America. This life means daily misery for Lolita, but big bucks for the Miami Seaquarium. And, even though her shameful living conditions clearly violate the Animal Welfare Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to hand out AWA licenses to the Seaquarium. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is outraged, and working hard to give Lolita the justice she so rightly deserves, which includes protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Lolita was one of seven orcas kidnapped in the notorious 1970 Penn Cove round up in Puget Sound, Washington. In this horrific event, four orcas (three calves) drowned in the nets and their bellies were slit in an attempt by human captors to sink the bodies–perhaps to hide this shameful waste of life. However, the bodies of the dead orcas washed ashore and lead to righteous public outrage. You can hear the cries of Lolita and her family in the devastating video footage of her family’s capture.

Performers literally ride on Lolita’s back for profit.

ALDF Fights to Free Lolita

This is why ALDF is doing everything it can to help return Lolita to her family. ALDF (along with PETA) is suing the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to end the exclusion of Lolita from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of the Pacific Northwest’s Southern Resident orcas. NMFS reviewed ALDF’s joint petition, along with the thousands of comments submitted by the public and found the petition merited. It proposed a final rule to include Lolita under the ESA in 2015.

ALDF is also working to stop the USDA’s unmerited renewal of the Miami Seaquarium’s AWA license.

ALDF is asking the courts to intervene where the federal agencies charged with protecting Lolita have repeatedly failed her. “The horror of Lolita’s confinement is inconceivable” says Jenni James, litigation fellow at ALDF. “It is time for the government to grant her the legal protections she has been denied for decades.”

Let Lolita Go Home

In the wild, orcas spend their entire lives with their mothers and family bonds last a lifetime. In 1996, twenty-six years after her capture, Lolita was played a recording of her family’s calls. Lolita returned the distinct dialect of her family’s calls, in clear recognition of familiar voices. And at more than 80 years old, Lolita’s mother (one of the endangered Southern Resident orcas off the coast of Washington state) still thrives in a seaside sanctuary in their home waters, waiting for Lolita to come home.

But because she brings in profit, Lolita instead swims tiny circles in a shallow and barren cement tank that doesn’t meet the minimum requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. Constantly exposed to the burning Miami sun and tropical storms, Lolita has been without an orca companion for three decades.

Alone in Her Tiny Tank

In the beginning, Lolita had the company of Hugo, a male orca who shared her tank from 1971 until 1980. They mated, but in her stressful environment Lolita suffered unsuccessful pregnancies. In 1980, in what many believe was a desperate attempt to break free from his miserable prison, or commit suicide, Hugo continuously rammed his head into the side of the tank and died of a brain aneurysm. In 1980, Hugo’s sudden death left Lolita sulking at the bottom of her tank in a state “not unlike bereavement.” Lolita has not had a killer whale companion since.

As a reward for her own extraordinary will to live, Lolita has been exploited for 43 years. She was abducted from her family and enslaved purely for the profit of the “amusement” park. Despite shameful and inhumane living conditions, Lolita endures – and her survivor spirit has haunted the hearts of people around the world. But given the low quality of her life at Seaquarium, it is likely she will die decades before her time, unless we act now, as we did for Keiko (“Willy”). It is time for us to set Lolita free.


  • On March 18, 2014 a judge dismissed ALDF’s case challenging Miami Seaquarium’s Animal Welfare Act license to display captive orcas.
  • In June of 2014 ALDF filed a notice of appeal of the District Court decision that found the USDA did not violate the law when it renewed Miami Seaquarium’s AWA exhibitor license.

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