The return of Lolita, the Miami Seaquarium’s biggest attraction in decades, would be an audacious operation that would cost $15-20 million. Once the nearly 2,300-kilogram Lolita flies across America, she’ll have to get used to living in the wild again in the waters off Washington state.
Lolita, 57, returns to the area where she was arrested in 1970 when she was not even four years old, to serve as a tourist attraction for the rest of her life. Reportedly, her supposed mother (95) is still swimming. While her mother still had her freedom, Lolita had to swim in circles for decades in a very small pool and had to appear several times a day on a show to entertain children in particular.
The Miami Aquarium on Thursday reached an agreement with animal rights activists and two millionaires who are taking Lolita’s fate seriously, ending years of efforts to free the orcas. Partly because of the documentary Blackfish Since 2013, about orca life in captivity, Aquarium has been under intense pressure to end and release its popular Lolita shows.
“Lolita is healthy and having a great time,” the park said at the time of the world’s second-oldest orca in captivity. But after Mexican businessman Eduardo Albor casually visited a Lolita show with his daughter — shortly before he bought Seaquarium in 2021 — he, too, was convinced. His daughter lapped around the 60-by-80-foot pool, one of the smallest in North America, where Lolita spent her life.
More than 50 years after this orca, known as Lolita, was captured for public display, plans are in place to return it to its home waters, where a killer whale believed to be its mother is still swimming. Read more: https://t.co/nI47gewksm
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“I don’t want to be here,” she said to her father, “that’s way too small for Lolita.” Albor then decided to release Lolita as soon as possible once he took over the park. A year after the acquisition, he canceled performances in which Lolita performed all kinds of tricks that were popular with families. The highlight was always the moment when she slammed her tail hard into the water to overwhelm the visitors in the front row.
“The dream of Lolita returning to where she came from is now closer than ever,” Albor, owner of 32 theme parks, said Thursday when introducing the deal he had with Friends of the Lolita. The group of scientists, whale experts, veterinarians and orca trainers who have been monitoring Lolita’s health lately will ensure she can return within two years.
The goal is to house her first in a sheltered area in a bay until she gets used to it. Next, it must be decided if and when Lolita will return to the Pacific Ocean, so that she can reconnect with others of her kind. The question is whether all of this is possible. Lolita, who was caught in Puget Sound, the mouth of the Pacific Ocean near Seattle, has known only the sheltered “tank life” most of her life.
Lone killer whale
This way she got used to feeding her at regular intervals. She has not had contact with another Orca since the death of her tankmate Hugo over forty years ago, while Orcas are pack animals. The only other animals Lolita has known since then are the dolphins that were part of the Seaquarium’s performances. It is no coincidence that animal activists point out that this majestic animal that has enthralled millions of visitors for decades is essentially the “only killer whale” in the world.
“There is no scientific evidence that Lolita can survive in a closed bay or the Pacific Ocean,” Seaquarium said in 2015, when activists lined the gates every day to persuade visitors to boycott the park. “It would be reckless to look at her life as an experiment.”
Experts, including those from the Netherlands Institute for Marine Research (NIOZ), shared this critique. They doubt if Lolita will be able to join a group of killer whales and will be accepted. They also wonder if Lolita can handle polluted water. However, there is great optimism among “Friends of Lolita” and animal activists that Lolita’s comeback will be a success. This will teach her to hunt again.
They also hope to reconnect with her family soon. “There is definitely an opportunity for her to communicate vocally with her family,” said Charles Finick, co-founder of Friends of Lolita and project manager of Whale Sanctuary. “And maybe physically, in time.”
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