On February 10, 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (“Services”) issued a final rule (pdf) to include captive killer whales in the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment (DPS) of killer whales (Orcinus orca). The DPS has been listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 2005, but the listing excluded whales held in captivity. In January 2013, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals petitioned the Services to remove the exclusion and extend the protections of the ESA to captive whales. After reviewing the petition, the Services concluded that captive animals cannot be assigned separate legal status from their wild counterparts.
The revised rule will affect one whale in the United States, Lolita, who has lived at the Miami Seaquarium since 1970. The total global population of the Southern Resident killer whale DPS is estimated to be fewer than 80 whales.