In a tragic turn of events, Lolita, an orca whale kept in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium for more than 50 years, passed away on Friday. The news of her death came as caregivers were preparing to relocate her from the theme park in the near future.
According to a statement posted on social media by the Seaquarium, Lolita, also known as Tokitae or Toki, had been showing signs of severe discomfort over the past two days. Caregivers and the medical team from Friends of Toki, a nonprofit group, immediately began treatment, but sadly, the 57-year-old orca succumbed to an apparent renal condition.
Described as an inspiration to all who knew her story, Lolita was particularly cherished by the Lummi nation, who regarded her as part of their own family. The Friends of Toki expressed their sorrow at the loss, stating, “Those who have had the privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit.”
Animal rights activists have long sought to secure Lolita’s release from her tank at the Miami Seaquarium. In March, a plan was proposed by the park’s recent owner, The Dolphin Company, and Friends of Toki, in collaboration with Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, to potentially move her to a natural sea pen in the Pacific Northwest. This plan received strong financial backing.
Expressing his deep sadness at Lolita’s passing, Jim Irsay said, “I am heartbroken that Toki has left us. Her story captured my heart, just as it did millions of others. I was honored 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. Rest in peace, dear Toki.”
Lolita had retired from performing last spring as a requirement of the park’s new exhibitor’s license with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since then, she had not been publicly displayed. Notably, recent upgrades had been made to enhance water filtration and temperature regulation in her pool.
However, any plans to relocate Lolita would have needed approval from federal and state regulators, a process that could have taken considerable time. The orca, weighing around 5,000 pounds, had spent numerous years confined within a tank measuring 80 feet by 35 feet and with a depth of 20 feet.
The loss of Lolita is a poignant reminder of the ongoing debate surrounding the ethics of keeping marine mammals in captivity. While her life was mired in controversy, her legacy will continue to fuel discussions about the welfare and liberation of animals held in similar circumstances.