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Lolita the Orca Whale May Return to the Wild After 5 Decades in Captivity at Miami Seaquarium

Lolita’s mother reportedly still resides in the waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, where the elderly killer whale could soon return.
After 52 years in captivity, Lolita the killer whale may return to the ocean and possibly reunite with her aging mother.

According to The Guardian, activists are making progress in a decades-long effort to release Lolita, also known as Tokitae or Toki, who was removed from the wild and transported to the Miami Seaquarium in 1970.

According to the publication, since 1970, the 56-year-old orca has resided and performed in what has been described as the smallest tank for captive killer whales in North America.

PHOTO: WALTER MICHOT/MIAMI HERALD/TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE VIA GETTY

Through the years, Lolita’s health has fluctuated. The newspaper added that experts have described the elderly whale as being in “remarkably good condition,” despite having outlived her tankmate Hugo. In 1980, he suffered a brain aneurysm after repeatedly striking his head against his enclosure.

Howard Garrett, a whale researcher and activist with Orca Network who has fought for Lolita’s release since 1995, told The Guardian, “Every day she is a miracle.” “The fact that she’s still alive defies all odds. I believe that her mental health is what maintains her physical health.”

He proceeded “She is not withdrawn, neurotic, or exhibiting any other stereotypical signs of brain damage associated with captivity. She may be an outlier in terms of her ability to remain healthy.”

The USDA issued a report last year criticizing the Miami Seaquarium’s treatment of the animal, stating that she was fed less than the recommended amount and was dehydrated.

According to the report, “The AV [attending veterinarian] was also concerned that Toki wasn’t receiving enough water (since marine mammals extract water from fish to meet their hydration needs) and that the lack of food volume would cause her distress and agitation.”
In continuation, “The AV was also concerned about the Training Curator mandating the inclusion of fast swimming and large leaps in training sessions and performances for this elderly whale.

Image credit: New Times

Toki’s bloodwork was abnormal, and the AV believed these behaviors could be the result of overexertion and Toki becoming winded, which both the senior trainer and the AV observed. The AV also determined that Toki had injured her lower jaw during fast swimming, most likely at the lower flume/bulkhead. Toki sustained an injury to her lower mandible on February 25, March 10, March 31, April 6 and 7, 2021, according to her medical records.”

The findings of the report and the fact that the facility’s new owners are open to the possibility of Lolita’s release have activists optimistic about her eventual return to open waters, according to The Guardian.

And while there are risks associated with returning Lolita to her former habitat, Newsweek reports that she could soon be reunited with her mother, a 93-year-old whale known as L25 or “Ocean Sun.”

According to Newsweek, the elderly mammal still roams the Salish Sea near Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, leading a pod of southern resident killer whales.

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