Lolita, a 5,000-pound killer whale, will be released after being held in captivity for more than 50 years. According to the Miami Seaquarium, they have reached an agreement with an animal welfare advocates group and will be returning the whale to “home waters” within two years. Advocates are optimistic that her family still swims and lives in the water, including her 95-year-old mother, who is believed to be still alive.
They also said in a statement that they will be providing Lolita, also known as Toki or Tokitae, with the “highest quality care” prior to her relocation to the Pacific Northwest. The CEO of The Dolphin Company, Eduardo Albor, which heads the Miami Seaquarium, a 38-acre oceanarium in downtown Miami, was also present at the press conference.
Lolita will be flown across the country and housed in a natural sea pen in the Washington area, where it will be taught how to fish after being fed by workers for decades. Advocates are hopeful that this will help prepare her for her return to the ocean. However, it wasn’t disclosed whether or not federal approval will be needed to transfer her back to the open waters.
Lolita, who is 57 years old, was originally caught from the ocean in 1970 after separating from her pod. Since arriving at the Miami Seaquarium, she has been one of the biggest tourist attractions, regularly showcasing her leaps from the water.
However, her performances have also caused controversy among animal rights advocates and residents, including those outside the Miami area. In fact, many have campaigned for decades that she be returned to the ocean. Lolita’s relocation, which would require the use of a C17 military plane or 747 Boeing, can cost up to eight figures. The move comes after an outcry from advocates who have complained about her living conditions for years.
While Lolita has retired from performing, she remains in her tank, which is approximately 80 feet by 35 feet.
According to the National Oceanic Administration, Orca whales such as Lolita can grow up to 32 feet and live up to 90 years. They usually stay with their birth families for their entire lives, which are led by matriarchs, which can live up to 90 years old.
These orcas typically live in the North Pacific Ocean with their families and spend a few months every year in Puget Sound. The species was classified as an endangered species in 2005 after a number of captivity programs caused their numbers to drop in the wild.