An orca named Lolita captured off Whidbey Island in 1970 is getting new protection from the federal government.
For decades, Lolita has been wowing crowds at the Miami Seaquarium.
Activists say her real home is the Salish Sea.
She was among the orcas herded by boats into Whidbey Island's Penn Cove in 1970, then netted and sold to aquariums.
"It is absolutely a crime that she is in the smallest tank in the United States and the loneliest orca in the world," said animal rights activist Susan Hargreaves.
Southern resident killer whales are federally listed under the Endangered Species Act.
On Wednesday, NOAA Fisheries announced it will extend endangered protection to those in captivity.
Lolita's new legal status does not automatically free her, and the Miami Seaquarium insists she's not going anywhere.
"This animal is not for sale and she's not going to be released. This is her home. It's been her home for 45 years. Why would we want to take this animal and make an experiment out of her," said curator Robert Rose.
Activists see a new legal opening for someday moving Lolita because endangered species cannot be harmed or harassed.
They say unlike Keiko, who died after being returned to Iceland from Oregon, Lolita is healthy enough to survive and find her family.
NOAA says any plan to actually move Lolita would need a permit and a rigorous review.
The new listing takes effect in 90 days.
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