Captive Orca Lolita Set to Be Released In The Wild After 50 Years Amid New ‘Era Of Accountability’

Apr 03, 2023 by apost team

The last few years have brought changes for animals held in captivity, as increasing pressure from the public and animal rights groups has meant that some have been released back into the wild. This is set to be the case for an orca named Lolita, who has been held captive at the Miami Seaquarium for over five decades. A news conference in March 2023 announced plans to free Lolita as a result of cooperation between the aquarium, a nonprofit organization named Friends of Lolita, and billionaire Jim Irsay, who owns the NFL's Indianapolis Colts and has various philanthropic interests.

A southern resident orca, Lolita — who's also known as Tokitae — was captured in 1970 at the age of 4 or 5 from Puget Sound, in Washington State. Since then, the large mammal has spent decades in captivity performing at the Miami Seaquarium for paying customers before she developed health problems in recent years. She is now around 57 years old and is one of the oldest captive orcas.

Lolita was captured during a time of whale roundups in the 1960s and '70s, which left a devastating impact on the distinct group of endangered killer whales from the region. At the time, 45 orcas were delivered to various theme parks around the world, while 13 died in the roundups. This reduced the population by approximately 40 percent and added to inbreeding problems that are still an issue today. The southern resident whales were placed on the endangered species list in 2005.

The killer whales swim free with other members of their clan, known as pods. For years, animal rights groups have petitioned for Lolita to be returned to her pod, where her mother, Ocean Sun, who is believed to be over 90 years old, swims free. This has left advocates optimistic that upon her release, she might still have a long life ahead of her in the wild.

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The move to free Lolita was the result of a coalition between the Miami Seaquarium, the nonprofit organization Friends of Lolita and Irsay, who said:

“I'm excited to be a part of Lolita's journey to freedom. ... I know Lolita wants to get to free waters.”

It's anticipated to take between 18 to 24 months to organize moving Lolita out of the aquarium, at a cost that could reach $20 million. Lolita will be transported by plane to an ocean sanctuary in her native waters, where trainers and veterinarians will have to teach her how to catch fish. She'll also have to build up muscles since orcas usually swim around 100 miles per day, something she hasn't been able to do in her confined tank. 

Vice President of PETA, Jared Goodman, said in a statement:

"If Lolita is finally returned to her home waters, there will be cheers from around the world, including from PETA, which has pursued several lawsuits on Lolita's behalf and battered the Seaquarium with protests demanding her freedom for years."

He added:

"If the Seaquarium agrees to move her, it'll offer her long-awaited relief after five miserable decades in a cramped tank and send a clear signal to other parks that the days of confining highly intelligent, far-ranging marine mammals to dismal prisons are done and dusted."

Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade county, agreed with this sentiment. "I’m hopeful that this transfer of ownership will usher in an era of accountability, transparency, and collaboration for Miami Seaquarium," she said.

What do you think about Lolita finally being set free? Do you think animals should be held in captivity? Let us know, then pass this on to the animal lovers in your life.

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