In August, 2012, a pseudo-scientific advocacy group and California farmers petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to delist the endangered status of the Southern resident population of orcas.  Their reason: they believed “the classification of the Southern Resident killer whale population as a distinct population segment of an unnamed North Pacific Resident subspecies was in error.”

Their true purpose: With the population, which resides in the Puget Sound area, being endangered, the whales preferred food, salmon, needed to be protected as well.  This meant that water levels in the American and Sacramento rivers needed to be maintained in order to allow the salmon to reach their spawning grounds.  As a result, the amount of irrigation water the farmers could take from the Sacramento River delta diminished, increasing costs as they looked to other sources.

After an extensive year-long assessment, the NMFS determined that the endangered status was correct.  This allowed a petition to list Lolita, the orca at the Miami Seaquarium captured in 1970, as endangered to proceed.  Which is why today we look at THE BIG PICTURE of


Once she becomes protected under the Endangered Species Act, one of two things are likely to take place.  A lawsuit filed by Peta, the Animal Defense Fund, and others in 2012 has been on hiatus in Federal Court in Miami since the eligibility of one of the plaintiffs was brought into question.  This lawsuit filed against the Seaquarium and the US Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that oversees animals in captivity, seeks to show that the facilities are not only inadequate, but that the Seaquarium’s license for Lolita was renewed in violation of federal standards.  Under the ESA, acceptable husbandry becomes an even more important factor than with the Animal Welfare Act.

If the plaintiffs win this case, barring any appeals, they have plans to fly Lolita to Washington and reunite her with her family.  But she could be headed to Europe instead.  I’ve confirmed that Palace Entertainment has entered into an agreement in principle to purchase the Seaquarium.  Palace is best known for its chain of Boomers! and Monterey Grand Prix family entertainment centers, as well as historic amusement parks such as Lake Compounce and Pittsburgh’s Kennywood, and numerous waterparks.

From speaking with someone associated with the chain, I’ve learned that they have been well aware of both the lawsuit and the Fisheries filing. And although the ESA prevents the interstate or international sale and trade of protected animals, it does not prevent a company that already has an animal from transfering it to a bigger and better facility at another one of their parks.

Palace Entertainment is the American arm of Madrid-based Parques Reunidos, the fourth most attended chain in the world according to the most recent AECOM/TEA Themed Index (after Disney, Merlin, and Universal).  Of their operations, quite a few are zoos, aquariums, and marine life parks.  That includes Sea Life Park in Hawaii, operated by Palace.

If Palace purchases the Seaquarium and she is not labeled endangered under the ESA, expect them to move her to the world’s largest orca tank, at Marineland on the French coast.


So when I asked Lolita what she thought of all this, this is what she had to say: