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Animal Activists Demand Release of "Lolita" After Big SeaWorld Announcement

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ORLANDO (CBSMiami) - Big changes are coming to SeaWorld. In response to falling attendance and demands from animal rights advocates, the marine mammal theme park is phasing out its killer whale performances, and will no longer breed orcas.

"SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals," said Joel Manby, President and Chief Executive Officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. in a statement. "As society's understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter."

The company plans to change the way the public views their killer whales. Instead of theatrical shows, they will introduce a new natural orca encounter.

The news immediately had activists fighting for the release of Lolita, the killer whale in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium.

The Miami Seaquarium has been the target of a legal action and protest for years, over Lolita who lives and performs at the park.

Now that SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the United States have joined forces to help captive orca, Lolita's advocates are using this as a springboard to ramp up demands for change here.

The 48-year-old orca was taken from the wild at age three and has been a resident of the Seaquarium ever since.

Animal activists hold weekly protests arguing her living conditions are deplorable.

She is an endangered species. And she is in the smallest tank in North America, she is in a barren concrete tank," said Natalie Barefoot, an attorney who runs a non-profit animal advocacy group called Cet Law.

"The biggest issue for Lolita is space, also the fact that she is alone in there. She does not have another species of her kind there," Barefoot told CBS4's Natalia Zea.

Barefoot was thrilled when she heard the announcement that SeaWorld will no longer breed its orca, and will phase out the flashy shows, opting instead for environmentally-focused performances in a more natural setting.

"People will be working together for whales and dolphins rather than having this fight and all of the money that's been going toward this needless fight will now be moved towards education, towards conservation."

Despite the Humane Society partnering up with SeaWorld, the national animal advocacy group told Zea it has no negotiations with the owners of the Seaquarium. Something Lolita activists, like Wendy King hope will soon change.

"We're really happy to hear that Sea World is listening to their customers and marine experts and realizing orcas do not belong in captivity. We're really here to urge the Seaquarium to do the same for Lolita, follow their footsteps and put her in a sanctuary somewhere where she can thrive," she said.

Zea asked a Seaquarium spokeswoman if the company plans to make any changes for Lolita, in light of the SeaWorld announcement.

The company simply released a statement, which read:

"The marine mammal shows at Miami Seaquarium are constantly evolving in order to incorporate important educational and conservational elements. As a result, several months ago the killer whale presentation at Miami Seaquarium transitioned into an educational presentation about killer whales, their natural behaviors and the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population. We will continue our commitment to education, conservation and the appreciation for all marine species, including Lolita, our resident Orca. All of the residents at the park play an important role in the mission of Miami Seaquarium to educate the public about the need to conserve the marine environment and its residents."
Andrew Hertz
General Manager
Miami Seaquarium

The Seaquarium is the subject of a federal lawsuit, alleging the park is holding Lolita in captivity in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. That case may go to trial this summer.

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