Lolita the orca will be returned to her “home waters” to live out the remainder of her days, more than 50 years after she was captured in the Pacific Ocean and kept for years at the Miami Seaquarium.
The Miami Seaquarium, the Florida nonprofit organization Friends of Lolita, and Jim Irsay, the philanthropist and owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, revealed Lolita’s hopeful outcome at a news conference on Thursday.
An overnight request for comment from the Miami Seaquarium did not immediately receive a response.
According to NBC Miami, Lolita, a southern resident orca also known as Tokitae, was rescued from Washington State’s waters in 1970 at the age of four or five. The oldest captive orca is now thought to be around 57 years old.
After developing health problems in recent years, Lolita was removed from the Miami Seaquarium’s whale stadium by MS Leisure, the firm that later acquired the facility. Lolita weighed about 7,000 pounds.
Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, expressed her optimism at the time, stating that “this transfer of ownership will herald in an era of accountability.”
An unbiased evaluation conducted in June revealed that Lolita’s condition has improved.
According to NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. department in charge of the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their ecosystems, southern resident orcas, who spend several months of the summer and fall each year in Washington state’s Puget Sound, were placed on the endangered species list in 2005.
According to its website, the population of southern residents has “fluctuated significantly” during the 1970s, with pods “reduced during 1965-75 due of captures for marine parks.”
It claims the population peaked at 97 whales in 1996 before decreasing once again to 79 in 2001, noting that as of around August, the population numbered in the 70s. The population was 71 whales in 1974, the first year individual animals were tallied.
For years, advocates for animal rights have pushed for Lolita to be returned to her pod in Puget Sound, with organizations including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) suing the Seaquarium over her confinement.
The PETA Foundation’s vice president and general counsel for animal law, Jared Goodman, said in a statement on Tuesday that “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.”
If the Seaquarium agrees to move her, Goodman said, “it’ll bring her long-awaited respite after five unhappy decades in a cramped tank and send a clear signal to other parks that the days of holding highly intelligent, far-ranging marine mammals to desolate prisons are done and dusted.”