The 57-year-old killer whale Lolita will be released after being held captive for over 50 years at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida. She will spend the remainder of her life at a semi-wild sea pen in the Pacific Northwest.
The 5,000-pound (2,268 kg) female killer whale Toki was captured from the wild in 1970 when she was around four years old and sold to Miami Seaquarium, where she was forced to perform tricks for visitors until 2022. At the aquarium in the United States, her name was changed from Toki to Lolita.
She performed tricks with another captured killer whale, Hugo, for ten years. In 1980, Hugo died of a brain hemorrhage, and Lolita became the sole killer whale at Miami Seaquarium.
Miami Seaquarium has agreed with the nonprofit Friends of Toki to return the orca to the ocean within two years. Lolita will be released in the next 18 to 24 months.
“We place the highest priority on the well-being of animals, above all else,” Eduardo Albor, CEO of The Dolphin Company, said in a statement. “Finding a better future for Lolita is one of the reasons that motivated us to acquire the Miami Seaquarium. With the help of Jim Irsay and Pritam Singh, we are bringing that dream, the dream of returning Lolita to her home waters, closer than ever.”
The move comes after years of advocacy by animal rights groups, including a legal battle to free Lolita after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) listed orcas as endangered species in 2015.
The release of Lolita has been long-awaited by the public, particularly after the 2013 documentary Blackfish highlighted the cruelty of captivity of orcas.
Killer whales are highly social mammals that can live up to 80 years. However, captivity in small tanks or pools causes severe physical and mental harm to these animals, including depression, anxiety, and shortened lifespans.