Government Officials Are Playing Hot Potato With Lolita's Tank

UPDATE: APHIS Public Affairs Specialist Tanya Espinosa says that the official responsible that Lolita's tank meets federal standards, Dr. Goldentyer, "interprets" the regulations to mean that the concrete wall in Lolita's tank is allowed.

Ever since the director of the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), a federal agency, deemed Lolita’s tank at the Miami Seaquarium noncompliant with federal regulations, animal rights activists have wondered what it means for the nearly 50-year-old orca.

This past September 4, officials at the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which oversees the compliance of Lolita's tank, released a statement that it is considering the MMC’s statement. “USDA will review, consider, and respond to MMC’s comments as part of the [agency’s] rulemaking process,” they said.

Currently, Russ Rector, a Broward-based animal rights activist, is on a mission to have APHIS officials formally declare the orca’s tank noncompliant. However, he has run into a curious problem: APHIS officials seem to be playing hot potato on who is responsible for ensuring the orca’s tank meets minimum space requirements.

Rector contends that Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer, the director of APHIS's Eastern Region, which includes Florida, told him someone else at APHIS headquarters is in charge of determining whether Lolita’s tank is noncompliant.

But that is not what officials at the Maryland headquarters told New Times on Wednesday.

APHIS public affairs specialist Tanya Espinosa said the person in charge of making sure Lolita’s tank is compliant with federal regulations is the very person who, reputedly, said it was not her responsibility.

"Dr. Goldentyer, as the Director of Animal Welfare Operations, is responsible for ensuring the compliancy of facilities located in her Regional area, of which [the Miami Seaquarium] is located,” said Espinosa.

Rector claims Goldentyer told him during a phone conversation a few weeks ago that she agreed with the MMC's ruling that Lolita's tank is noncompliant.

Goldentyer declined to comment.

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