Opinion

Orca survival trumps profits, ‘ownership’ | Editorial

It’s time for Lolita to be returned home. The Southern Resident orca, you may recall, was captured in 1970 in our waters and now resides, and performs on demand, at the Miami Seaquarium.

Since 1995, Orca Network and the San Juan Island-based Center for Whale Research have lobbied for the whale’s return to the Salish Sea, but the aquarium’s ownership rights have apparently trumped the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and other animal welfare laws.

Our view: A single corporation’s ownership rights do not trump the survival of a species. Profits, which the Miami Seaquarium has made in the millions, do not trump what’s morally right.

Six orcas from Lolita’s family disappeared this year, among them breeding-age females, bringing the population to about 83 — far lower than the 120-plus before the capture era. Of the current number, fewer than a dozen are breeding-age females.

A 54-year-old orca has been known to give birth to a healthy calf. Lolita was born about 1963 or 1964. If reunited, it’s possible she could have two or three calves; said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research.

An earlier relocation plan written by Balcomb has the whale being flown by leased C-141 military aircraft from Miami to Whidbey Naval Air Station, then transported by truck to Penn Cove. There, she would stay in a sea pen until she adjusted to the relocation, then released.

To those who might have concerns about the orca’s ability to adapt to her birth environment, Balcomb said, “I have every confidence she could be reunited with her pod.”

In conclusion:

— There is a strong moral reason for Lolita to be returned home: According to Coupeville-based Orca Network, Lolita lives alone in a 35 by 20 tank; that’s tantamount to spending your life in your bathtub.

— There is a sound legal reason for Lolita to be returned home: According to Orca Network, Lolita’s living conditions do not meet the minimum requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. In addition, Lolita is an L pod whale, an endangered species.

— Finally, Lolita’s family is threatened with extinction, and she could contribute to its survival.

It’s time for Lolita to be returned home.

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