Orca Living In Captivity At Florida Aquarium For 50 Years To Be Released Back To Ocean

Florida Aquarium To Return Orca To Ocean After Over 50 Years

As wonderful as aquariums are for learning about the underwater world, it cannot be denied that a sea creature’s true home lies in the ocean.

Now, one orca who has been living in a Florida aquarium for over 50 years will finally be released back to her true home.

Florida aquarium release orca

Source: Reuters

Lolita the killer whale was first captured in 1970. Soon after, she became a main attraction at the Miami Seaquarium’s killer whale shows.

Now, she is set to return home as part of an agreement between the aquarium and animal activists.

Release of orca was decades in the making

Miami Seaquarium announced on Thursday (30 Mar) that Lolita would be returned to an ocean sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest, USA Today reported.

Florida aquarium release orca

Source: Facebook

At 56, she is one of the oldest of her kind in captivity. Animal activists have fought decades for the Florida aquarium to release the orca.

At the forefront of the campaign is non-profit organisation Friends of Toki. Its name features the short form of Lolita’s Native American name, Tokitae.

The process of returning Lolita began years ago with the transfer of the aquarium’s ownership to The Dolphin Co, according to Reuters.

Eduardo Albor, CEO of The Dolphin Co, said that securing a better future for Lolita was one of their reasons for buying the aquarium from its previous owner, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.

SeaWorld had phased out killer whale shows since 2016. However, it was The Dolphin Co that retired Lolita from shows altogether in March 2022.

Florida aquarium owner wanted to release orca as promise to daughter

Mr Albor also revealed that his daughter played a big role in his motivation to release Lolita, USA Today reported.

Prior to acquiring the aquarium in 2021, they had visited it together and watched the orca perform.

While the show captivated Mr Albor and the crowd, his daughter had the opposite reaction.

She told her father, “I cannot be here because this place is too small for Lolita.”

The girl went on to say that she had to go or she would start crying.

It was from that point on that Mr Albor promised his daughter that he would do his best to save Lolita.

Release of orca could reunite her with 89-year-old mother

While the news of Lolita’s release is a triumph, the process will take time as there are financial and logistical hurdles to overcome.

According to a Facebook post by Miami Seaquarium, they will work to make her relocation possible in the “next 18 to 24 months”.

Florida aquarium release orca

Source: Facebook

Weighing in at 2,268kg, Lolita will require a special plane to transport her to a habitat in the Pacific.

The transfer will cost a hefty amount of roughly USD$20 million (S$26.6 million).

Jim Irsay, owner of American football team Indianapolis Colts, has agreed to foot the bill.

The self-professed whale enthusiast said he expected it to be a big number anyway and expressed his excitement at helping Lolita.

Given how long Lolita has been in captivity, she also needs to be acclimated and taught to hunt before her return to the wild.

Nonetheless, if all goes well, the orca will be able to join a pod inhabited by an 89-year-old whale believed to be her mother.

Wishing Lolita all the best in her journey back home

It’s not every day that an animal living in captivity gets a chance to return to where they belong.

After over five decades, Lolita’s homecoming is long overdue.

We hope she makes a safe, healthy return to ocean waters and reunites with her family.

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Featured image adapted from Reuters and Google Maps.

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