On Thursday, March 30th, the Miami Seaquarium formally agreed to begin the process of returning Lolita, a 56-year-old killer whale, to her home waters in the Pacific Northwest. The agreement was made between the aquarium’s operator, The Dolphin Company, and Friends of Toki (Lolita), a nonprofit organization created to help the killer whale.
Since the 1970s, Lolita has been held at the Miami Seaquarium, where she has been a popular attraction. However, animal activists have been fighting for her freedom for decades, arguing that she deserved to return to her home in the wild.
The agreement to return Lolita to the Pacific Northwest was made possible by a generous contribution from the owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts Jim Irsay. Teasing the news in a Thursday Twitter post, Irsay wrote, “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!!”
At the press conference, The Dolphin Company CEO Eduardo Albor expressed his commitment to the well-being of animals. “Finding a better future for Lolita is one of the reasons that motivated us to acquire the Miami Seaquarium,” he said. “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 process of returning Lolita to her home waters is expected to take 18 to 24 months. The animal is currently receiving round-the-clock care from a team of dedicated, highly skilled, medical, nutrition, and behavior experts. Her most recent independent health and welfare assessment indicated that “her energy, appetite, and engagement in daily activities is becoming reasonably stable.”
The news of Lolita’s return was met with celebration from animal rights groups, such as PETA, who praised Irsay’s efforts to “reduce suffering.”
The USDA released a report in 2021 criticizing the Miami Seaquarium’s care of the animal, citing that Lolita was fed less than the recommended amount, wasn’t taking in enough water, as well as disrepair at her pool. For decades, animal activists have been advocating for Lolita’s release, arguing that she deserved to return to her home in the wild.