The Miami Seaquarium revealed plans to move Lolita the orca to a marine sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest, close to the waters where she was captured over 50 years ago, within the next 18 to 24 months.
The orca whale Lolita will have a Free Willy tale of her own.
The whale was taken from the Pacific Ocean near Washington and brought to the Florida park in captivity in 1970. On Thursday, the Miami Seaquarium revealed plans to relocate the whale from its facility to an ocean sanctuary in her “home waters.”
PHOTO: NURI VALLBONA/THE MIAMI HERALD VIA AP
Eduardo Albor of The Dolphin Company, Pritam Singh of Friends of Lolita, and philanthropist Jim Irsay, who owns the Indianapolis Colts, joined representatives from the Miami Seaquarium at the news conference.
The Miami Seaquarium announced at the conference that it has started “the process of returning Toki to her home waters” by establishing a legally binding agreement between The Dolphin Company, which recently took over management of the Miami Seaquarium, and Friends of Lolita, a nonprofit group established to assist Lolita, also known as Tokitae or Toki.
Irsay, generously contributing to the Lolitia relocation endeavor, teased the historic news on Thursday by tweeting, “Dinner before today’s Lolita press conference in Miami Beach! Key players in the massive plan to finally FREE this 8000 lb killer whale, Lolita!”
In a release from the Miami Seaquarium, Irsay added, “the story of Lolita has been near and dear to my heart. I am proud and enthusiastic to play a role in finally returning Lolita to her native Pacific Northwest.”
JEFF GREENBERG/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY
The CEO of The Dolphin Company, Albor, described a comparable bond with Lolita.
“It has always been our commitment at The Dolphin Company that we place the highest priority on the well-being of animals, above all else,” Albor said. “Finding a better future for Lolita is one of the reasons that motivated us to acquire the Miami Seaquarium.”
According to NBC News, Lolita was taken out of the woods when she was about 4 years old, making her today about 57 years old. The oldest orca whale in custody is reportedly Lolita. According to The Guardian, she also resides in one of North America’s tiniest whale aquariums.
The state of Lolita’s health fluctuated over time. The outlet added that despite outliving her tankmate Hugo, experts have praised the elderly whale’s “remarkably good shape.” He repeatedly banged his skull against his enclosure before dying in 1980 from a brain aneurysm. At the Miami Seaquarium, Lolita is the only remaining orca whale.
WALTER MICHOT/MIAMI HERALD/TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE VIA GETTY
The Miami Seaquarium’s treatment of the animal was criticized in a USDA report published in 2021, which noted that she was not receiving the recommended quantity of food and was not drinking enough water.
After adjustments were reportedly made to Lolita’s care by The Dolphin Company, the new owners of the Miami Seaquarium, the whale was reportedly in improved health, according to NBC News. Nevertheless, Lolita’s health problems led to her removal from the Miami Seaquarium’s exhibit in 2022.
Several animal welfare groups, many of which “have worked, prayed, and hoped for this result for many, many years,” as the aquarium puts it, are celebrating the news that Lolita will soon be released from Miami Seaquarium.
“After 52 years, Tokitae’s time languishing in the smallest orca tank is finally ending. Every animal activist who has been advocating for her release can finally breathe a sigh of relief. We can’t wait to see her living in the wild under some continued human care, preferably in her home seas where she belongs. To quote the singer Lizzo, it’s the about damn time! Now, we must continue fighting for the thousands of other cetaceans who continue to suffer in captivity for tourist entertainment,” Nicole Barrantes, a wildlife campaign manager with World Animal Protection, told PEOPLE in a statement.
The Miami Seaquarium said it expects to rehome the orca in the upcoming 18 to 24 months but withheld further information regarding the ocean sanctuary intended for Lolita’s release.
“With the support of all parties, the continued health of Lolita, and approvals from the appropriate authorities, we are all committed to giving this beautiful orca a new home and peaceful future,” Albor said.
Find More Articles 👇 👇 👇