Lolita performs in a pool at Miami Seaquarium Lolita has performed in shows for 48 years - Media Credit: Album / Alamy Stock Photo

Lolita The Orca ‘Could Finally Be Freed’ After Half A Century In Captivity

Tokitae (also known as Lolita) lives at Miami Seaquarium


3 Minutes Read

An orca who was taken from the sea over half a century ago could finally be set free, according to a new report. 

Activists are campaigning for Tokitae, who is also known by her show name Lolita, to be returned to the Pacific north-west to live out her final days. She has spent the last 52 years in a pool at Miami Seaquarium. 

It has even been suggested that Tokitae could be reunited with her family.

Tokitae’s mother is still alive and thought to be in her 90s. The Guardian reports that she can still be seen leading a pod of killer whales in the Salish Sea in search of salmon. 

Tokitae has performed in shows for 48 years, doing tricks like jumping, flipping, and lifting trainers in the air. 

The campaign to release her has received worldwide support, including from activists, Indigenous groups, and philanthropists.

“We owe all these captive animals an opportunity to live in an environment as close to their natural environment as we can possibly provide,” said Charles Vinick, of the Whale Sanctuary Project, which helps free captive whales around the world.

Vinick also noted that whales like Tokitae have earned their human owners millions of dollars, adding: “We owe them a retirement program, a pension … giving them back something like this is the least we can do.”

What could happen to Tokitae?

A decision to release Tokitae could raise questions about her ability to survive in the wild after so long spent in captivity. 

Howard Garrett, a whale researcher and activist who started working on plans for her release in 1995, thinks it’s possible she could be returned to the Pacific. 

According to the report, he said that she could be safely transported on the 10-hour journey from Miami to somewhere in the San Juan Islands in a comfortable fleece-lined stretcher with cool water. 

If it does go ahead, her release would be a rare case, as few whales have returned from the wild to captivity. But it is possible.

For example, Keiko – who played Willy in the Free Willy movies – was rehabilitated in a sea pen in Oregon in the 90s before living five more years in the wild in Iceland. He was much younger than Tokitae, however, at 22 years old. 

Tokitae’s future

We don’t know whether Tokitae will be set free, but there is currently an operational plan to bring her back to a secure and protected area in the Salish Sea, where she could receive ongoing human care while being in her native waters.

If this were successful, she would likely require a great deal of space and food for the rest of her life. 

It is also possible that she could end up at a 100-acre netted enclosure run by the Whale Sanctuary Project in Nova Scotia.

Concerns have been raised about her health, however, as well as the possibility that she could spread infections to other southern resident killer whales.

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The Author

Polly Foreman

Polly is the Deputy Editor of Plant Based News. She has been vegan since 2014, and has written extensively on veganism, animal rights, and the environment.

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