Lolita the orca dies after spending more than half a century in captivity

In February, the Seaquarium announced its plans to release the killer whale back into the ocean

Maroosha Muzaffar
Saturday 19 August 2023 08:10 BST
Aerial Footage of Bryde's Whale Feeding

Lolita, an orca at the Miami Seaquarium that had been in captivity for more than 50 years before the park bowed to public pressure and planned to release it into the ocean, died on Friday.

The orca, also known as Tokitae and Toki, exhibited significant signs of distress during the past two days prior to her demise, the Miami Seaquarium in a Facebook post.

Lolita’s death has been attributed to a suspected renal problem.

“Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story and especially to the Lummi nation that considered her family,” the Seaquarium said. “Those of us who have had the honour and privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit.”

For years, animal rights activists have been advocating for the freedom of Lolita from her enclosure at the Miami Seaquarium. In March, a potential solution emerged when The Dolphin Company, the park’s recent owner, along with the nonprofit organisation Friends of Toki, unveiled a plan to consider relocating her to a natural sea pen in the Pacific Northwest.

This endeavour gained support from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who agreed to provide financial backing for the initiative.

In an update on Tuesday, the Seaquarium said that Lolita was “very stable and as good as she can be at 50 years of age”.

Eduardo Albor, chief executive of The Dolphin Company, said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “not a single effort we made to give Lolita an opportunity was a waste of time and money”.

“My heart is truly broken,” Mr Albor wrote. “Lolita captured me since 1st day. Love at first sight.”

In a statement released on Friday, Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts said: “I was honoured to be part of the team working to return her to her indigenous home, and I take solace in knowing that we significantly improved her living conditions this past year. Her spirit and grace have touched so many.”

Lolita retired from performing last spring, following a stipulation set forth by the US Department of Agriculture as part of the Miami Seaquarium’s fresh exhibitor’s license.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement published in the New York Times that Lolita had been kept in “the smallest, bleakest orca tank in the world, deprived of any semblance of a natural life” and had displayed “repetitive and abnormal behaviour,” indicating “severe psychological trauma”.

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