Orca Lolita Set To Be Released Into Pacific After 52 Years

Dylan Turck
Lolita, The oldest orca whale in captivity, is set to be released into the wild after 52 years of living in the Miami Seaquarium. Critics believe it may be too late to reintroduce her, while activists say that a short life in the wild is better than a long life in prison.
Lolita performing at Miami Seaquarium. Photo: Merci L | Unsplash
Lolita performing at Miami Seaquarium. Photo: Merci L | Unsplash

After years of activists protesting for Lolita’s release, the Miami Seaquarium has ceased all orca shows and agreed to release her back into the wild. A plan is being drafted to rehabilitate her and reunite her with her family.

The two-year plan will not release her into the wild immediately but instead, place her in a large ocean sanctuary where she can learn how to hunt for food and strengthen her swimming abilities.

The parties responsible for this historical moment are; a non-profit called Friends of Toki, the owner of The Dolphin Company who purchased the Miami Seaquarium in 2021, Eduardo Albor, and the owner of the NFL team the Indianapolis Colts, Jim Irsay.

The Story Of Lolita The Orca

Lolita’s story began in 1970 when she was captured in Puget Sound, a large estuary found near the city of Seattle, where a horrific roundup of whales in the 60s and 70s decimated the local population of orcas and took Lolita from her family.

Fisherman casting a net in the ocean. Photo: Pok Rie | Pexels

Lolita was part of a rare subspecies of orca that spent several months of the year in Puget Sounds. In 1970 it was estimated that during the roundup, the population was reduced by 40% with at least 13 orcas dying and 45 being captured and sold to theme parks and aquariums. 

In 1971 the population of wild orcas in the area numbered only 70 members, placing the species on the endangered list. Lolita, who was only four years old at the time, was sold to the Miami Seaquarium for $20 000 where she was placed in a small tank and trained to do tricks and perform shows for visitors.

For the next 50 years, Lolita would be the star of the aquarium with visitors flocking to see her perform but, as the years went on, people would become understandably outraged at the conditions in which she lived and as a result, they lobbied for her right to freedom.

Lolita And The Southern Residents

Lolita, also known as Tokitae, was part of a pod of Southern Resident Killer Whales in Puget Sound. Southern Resident Killer Whales are an endangered subspecies of orca that are only found in the North Pacific Ocean.

A pod of orcas swimming together. Photo: Ivan Stecko | Pexels

Southern Residents are unique because they only eat salmon and have a distinct social order in their pods. There is only one clan of these Orcas and its split into three distinct pods, each pod follows a matriarch and all subsequent females will remain in their family’s pod for the entirety of their life.

Southern Residents also have a unique language system when compared with other orcas. After years of studying the sounds of these animals, researchers noticed that each pod of this clan produced unique vocalizations that distinguish the pods and members from each other.

All three pods were originally one pod, but since separating have completely changed their language and habits. Although the pods separated a long time ago and follow different matriarchs, they are still friendly with each other and will socialize if they meet.

It is unlikely that Lolita has forgotten her pod’s language and when she is released, research suggests that she will be accepted back into the pod despite being missing for over 50 years.

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