Lolita, the orca who has been in captivity for more than 50 years at the Miami Seaquarium, will return to the waters off the northwest coast of the United States where was captured in 1970 thanks to a historic agreement between the aquarium where he lives and entities that financially support his maintenance.
Eduardo Albor, general director of The Dolphin Company, the Miami Seaquarium concession company, said Thursday in a statement to EFE that Lolita will be able to return to the waters of the North Pacifican area located between the state of Washington and the border with Canada, in a period of 6 to 12 months.
“In any case, these are estimates, nothing more,” said Albor to clarify that the dates that were made public today are nothing more than a reference, since, as he assured, these are wishes that could later be modified.
Albor accompanied the mayor of Miami Dade, Daniella Levine Cava, in a press conference, who was officially in charge of making public the news that, finally, Lolita returns home.
The expectation was unusual for an announcement related to an animal, but it is that Lolita is also a “symbol” as the participants repeatedly said at the press conference.
Lolita was about four years old when she was captured in 1970. Her hunters sold her to the Miami Seaquarium for about $20,000.
The Lummi Indians, who live in the area where the orca was born, consider it a person and they call it Tokitae.
years of protests
Animal defense groups had been protesting for years against conditions that they considered unsuitable for the orca, confined in a pool about 60 feet (18 meters) in length and a maximum depth of 20 feet (6.1 meters).
“Of course, the place to which it will be transferred will be much larger than those dimensions,” explained Albor, who made it clear that Lolita’s transfer process “will be complex.”
In the North Pacific, “Lolita will be located in a ‘cove’ – a delimited area – and not in the open sea,” he said.
The orca suffered a serious infection last year that seems to have been overcomeaccording to a review in February from independent veterinarians.
“In any case, to start the process we need the approval of the veterinarians,” said Albor, who indicated that the animal is currently in the best possible state of health.
The specific place in the waters off the coast of Washington state where Lolita will be located has already been chosen and it has also been decided that she will be taken to her new home on a cargo plane.
Pritam Singh, one of the founders of the Amigos de Lolita organization and who covers the orca’s maintenance expenses, told EFE today that the agreement was possible thanks to the desire that the orca benefit.
“I already paid 1.5 million dollars for maintenance and, probably, I will have to contribute another similar amount in this transfer process,” said the philanthropist.
Philanthropists and activists
Jim Irsay, another of the people who finances the maintenance with his money, indicated that the agreement was possible thanks to a desire for cooperation-
Morvah George, leader of World Animal Protection’s Wildlife campaign, said she hoped to see Lolita in the seas soon, “where her mother is still waiting for her.”
The organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which filed a lawsuit before the US court to obtain Lolita’s release, stressed that “Lolita has not had any contact with another orca since 1980, when her Tankmate Hugo apparently died after repeatedly hitting his head against a wall.”
According to Orcanetwork, there are currently more than 50 orcas in captivity in the world, most of them in the United States and China, but also in Argentina and France.
Until March 13, Canada was also on this list of countries, but that day the only orca remaining captive there died, Kiska, who is believed to be 47 years old and had been in the Marineland park since the 1980s, when he arrived with another famous orca, Keiko, the one from the film “Free Willy”.
In April 2017, the orca Tilikum died at the age of 36, at SeaWorld in Orlando (USA), the protagonist of the documentary “Blackfish”, an allegation against the mistreatment and captivity of animals at the service of the show.
In 2010, trainer Dawn Brancheau was grabbed by the scalp by Tilikum and dragged to the bottom of the tank they were in and suffocated to death, according to the coroner’s report.
It was reported at the time that the cetacean had previously fatally attacked a female trainer in Canada and in 1999 a man who entered her tank at night was found dead on her back.