A Florida fishery has reached an agreement with animal welfare advocates to release Lolita, a 2,268-kilogram orca held in captivity for more than half a century, officials said Thursday.
The Miami Seaquarium says it has reached a “control agreement” with nonprofit organization Friends of Lolita to return the dolphins to their marine habitat in the Pacific Northwest within two years.
Lolita, a 57-year-old orca captured at a temple near Seattle in 1970, is also known as Doki, short for the animal’s Native American name, Dogidae, the “Miami Herald” reported. The plan to return Lolita to her natural habitat requires federal approval, the newspaper said.
The process of returning Lolita to the water took years to complete, starting with the transfer of ownership of the aquarium to The Dolphin Co., Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniela Levine Cava said at a news conference. Later, the company partnered with a non-profit organization to provide medical assistance to the animal.
The Seaquarium’s previous owner, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc, phased out orca shows in 2016. Lolita, once a main attraction at Seaquarium, retired from performances in March 2022 after management changed hands.
“Finding a better future for Lolita is one of the reasons that motivated us to buy the Miami Seaquarium,” Dolphin Co. Chief Executive Eduardo Albor said in a statement.
Pressure to release Lolita gained momentum after the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” showed the orcas’ captivity.
After the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration placed orcas on the endangered species list in 2015, animal rights advocates unsuccessfully fought in court for Lolita’s freedom for years.
Killer whales are highly social mammals that have no natural predators and can live up to 80 years.
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