Protesters marched Saturday to demand the release of Miami Seaquarium's orca, Lolita.
Hundreds showed up for the march at Virginia Key Beach Park Saturday morning. Activists said their march was much more than a protest. They called it an anti-captivity movement.
Jared Goodman, Director of Animal Law with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said a decision due later this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could determine if Lolita is part of an endangered group of whales.
"We are hoping to finally have that decision that includes Lolita in the listing," Goodman said, "which means that she'll finally be protected from harm and harassment just like her wild family."
But Miami Seaquarium curator Robert Rose says even if she is listed as endangered, that does not necessarily mean she will be released.
"The National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for the rule-making, has come out ans supported our position," Rose said. "[They] said she is a non-releasable animal."
Lolita has been in captivity for more than forty years. She was originally captured off the coast of Washington state in 1970. Activiests have protested outside the Miami Seaquarium for decades, calling Lolita "the world's loneliest orca." They also claim the whale's tank is too small.
"She's stranded, she's stuck in there," said Howard Garrett with the Orca Network. "She needs to go home."
March organizer Robin Jewel Roberts said the amount of people who showed up for the march show how important they feel it is for Lolita to be freed.
"She's been a slave for 44 years, but today our numbers spoke for themselves," Roberts said.
Protest organizers touted a plan for Lolita's release, which called for buying the orca and moving her back to Washington state, near the San Juan islands. There, she would be placed in a sea pen where she could be near other orcas.
The Seaquarium, however, says the real problem is what is happening in the Pacific Northwest, where animal rights organizations want to send the killer whale should she be released.
"We've got a group of kiler whales up there that are endangered," Rose said. "Ten years ago, they were over 100. Thday they're in the 70s. That's 20 percent of those animals that have died in the last ten years."
Activists said they have no reason to doubt Lolita would survive under their plan. They vow to keep fighting until she is released.