Florida Aquarium plans to return Lolita the killer whale after 50 years in captivity: NPR
Nearly five decades after being captured and held at the Miami Seaquarium, Lolita the orca will finally be able to return to the Pacific to live out the rest of her life.
At a press conference on Thursday, the Miami Seaquarium announced plans to move the nearly 5,000-pound killer whale — which was initially named Tokitae, or Toki — back to its original home in northeastern waters. western Pacific.
And after years of mounting pressure from animal rights activists calling for Lolita’s release from the Miami Aquarium, officials announced their plans for the “return process.” [Lolita] in his native waters.”
The press conference was organized in part by the Miami Seaquarium, Florida nonprofit Friends of Lolita and philanthropist and NFL Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
“It’s a very special day,” said Eduardo Albor, CEO of Dolphin Company, during the press conference. “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in a year when actions take the place of words.”
The Seaquarium has signed an agreement with Friends of Lolita to relocate the orca, in addition to receiving financial assistance from Irsay.
“I’m thrilled to be part of Lolita’s journey,” Irsay said. “Since I was little I have loved whales, I have loved whales because [of] their power, their greatness and their gentleness.”
Irsay told reporters that the cost of relocating Lolita could be a “big number” because officials did not disclose a specific budget or figure related to her relocation. From now on, the plan for Lolita is to build her an ocean sanctuary with nets, where she will receive constant care from trainers.
“She’s lived so long to have this opportunity and my only mission…is to help this whale break free,” Irsay said.
Lolita was captured on the Pacific coast near Seattle almost 50 years ago at the age of 4. The orca, believed to be 57, was finally able to withdraw from exhibits last spring under an agreement with federal regulators.
She is currently the oldest orca to be held in captivity.
Over the past decade, animal rights groups have staged protests and filed lawsuits aimed at improving conditions for Lolita at the Seaquarium. Members of the Lummi Nation in Seattle even threatened to sue for his release.
NPR’s Ari Daniel contributed to this report.