After more than 50 years at Miami Seaquarium, Lolita the orca whale may finally be heading back to her home waters in the Pacific Northwest.
The plan to return the beloved orca was announced Thursday during a news conference held by the Seaquarium, alongside philanthropist and owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts Jim Irsay, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and non-profit Friends of Lolita Founder Pritam Singh.
“I’m excited to be a part of Lolita’s journey to freedom,” Irsay said during the news conference announcing the historic deal. “I know Lolita wants to get to free waters.”
The Miami Seaquarium took to social media to announce the news of Lolita’s relocation from the facility to an ocean sanctuary in native waters, which could happen in the next 18 to 24 months:
Lolita, a Southern Resident killer whale also known by her original name as Tokitae, was captured in the 1970s and has lived at the Seaquarium ever since. Now 56 years old and weighing roughly 7,000 pounds, she is considered the second-oldest orca to be held in captivity.
For years, animal rights activists have fought for the orca to spend her final years back home in a pod, saying her tank at the Seaquarium is much too small, measuring 80-feet-long and 35-feet-wide.
After decades of performing for park guests, Lolita stopped performing last year due to a decline in her health. However, an independent assessment in June found her to be in better health, as reported by NBC News.
Levine Cava said the agreement is an “historic” move. “So many have hoped and prayed for this result for many, many years.”