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After 50 years in captivity, Lolita the orca is finally free to return home to her family

The Miami Seaquarium did not disclose details of the ocean sanctuary for Lolita's release but said it hopes to relocate the orca in the next 18 to 24 months.

After 50 years in captivity, Lolita the orca is finally free to return home to her family
Cover Image Source: Youtube / NBC News

It is about time Lolita the Orca returned home to her 'home waters.' The Miami Seaquarium announced on Thursday that the whale— captured from the Pacific Ocean near Washington and placed into captivity at the Florida park in 1970 will be moved to an ocean sanctuary in her "home waters." According to PEOPLE, representatives from the Miami Seaquarium said it has begun "the process of returning Toki to her home waters" through a legally binding agreement between The Dolphin Company, which recently started managing the Miami Seaquarium, and Friends of Lolita, a nonprofit organization created to help Lolita, also known as Tokitae or Toki. 



 

 

Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts and a generous contributor to the Lolitia relocation effort, tweeted, "Dinner before today's Lolita press conference in Miami Beach! Key players in the massive plan to finally FREE this 8000 lb killer whale, Lolita!!" In a release from the Miami Seaquarium, Irsay added, "the story of Lolita has been near and dear to my heart. I am proud and enthusiastic to play a role in finally returning Lolita to her native Pacific Northwest." The CEO of the Doplin Company expressed a similar sentiment, saying, "It has always been our commitment at The Dolphin Company that we place the highest priority on the well-being of animals, above all else," Albor said. "Finding a better future for Lolita is one the reasons that motivated us to acquire the Miami Seaquarium."



 

 

Lolita was removed from the wild when she was about four years old, making her roughly 57 years today. However, Lolita has fallen ill in recent years, but experts have said the orca whale is in "remarkably good shape," outliving her tank-mate Hugo, who died of a brain aneurysm in 1980 after hitting his head against his enclosure. Lolita is currently the only orca whale at the Miami Seaquarium. Per NBC, an independent assessment in June 2022 found the whale to be in better health, but Lolita was pulled from display at the Miami Seaquarium in 2022 due to her health issues. Animal rights activists have petitioned for Lolita to be moved back to her home in Puget Sound, with groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals taking the Seaquarium to court over her captivity.



 

“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,”  said Jared Goodman, vice president of PETA Foundation and general counsel for animal law. Now, the pending release of Lolita is being celebrated across animal welfare organizations, many of which "have worked, prayed, and hoped for this result for many, many years," as said by the aquarium. The Miami Seaquarium did not disclose details of the ocean sanctuary for Lolita's release but said it hopes to relocate the orca in the next 18 to 24 months.



 

"After 52 years, Tokitae's time languishing in the smallest orca tank is finally coming to an end. Every animal activist who has been advocating for her release can finally breathe a sigh of relief. We can't wait to see her living in the wild under some continued human care, preferably in her home seas where she belongs. To quote the singer Lizzo, it is the about damn time! Now, we must continue fighting for the thousands of other cetaceans who continue to suffer in captivity for tourist entertainment," Nicole Barrantes, a wildlife campaign manager with World Animal Protection, told PEOPLE in a statement.

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