An orca whale that has spent 50 years at a Florida aquarium is returning to her home waters, where she will hopefully reunite with her mother

An orca whale that has spent 50 years at a Florida aquarium is returning to her home waters, where she will hopefully reunite with her mother
The audience at the Miami Seaquarium watching Lolita the killer whale at her 40th anniversary performance in 2010.Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
  • Miami Seaquarium just announced plans to return a 57-year-old orca whale to the Pacific Ocean.
  • Lolita has been in captivity at the aquarium for over 50 years, since her capture in 1970.

A Florida aquarium just announced plans to release an orca whale named Lolita back to her home waters after more than 50 years in captivity.

During a news conference on March 30, the Miami Seaquarium announced its plan to collaborate with the animal-rights group Friends of Lolita and release the orca, who is believed to be 57 years old, back into her home waters in the Pacific Northwest.

Lolita, who was initially called Tokitae or "Toki" for short, was captured from the Pacific coast near Seattle at the age of 4. She is the second-oldest orca whale in captivity, surpassed only by Corky, a 58-year-old orca housed at SeaWorld San Diego.

"This is a very special day," Eduardo Albor, CEO of the Dolphin Company, which manages the Miami Seaquarium, said during the press conference on Thursday. "It is amazing to see how many things you can achieve in one year when actions take place of words."

Orcas can live up to 90 years, but Lolita's 95-year-old mother is believed to still be alive, according to CNN. After her relocation, Lolita will hopefully be reunited with her pod.


"(There's) the opportunity for her to acoustically connect with her family, without a doubt," Charles Vinick, the executive director of the Whale Sanctuary Project, told the WPLG radio station.

Lolita will need to learn how to swim in the open water and catch fish again

The whale will receive "round-the-clock care" before her relocation in the next 18 to 24 months, Miami Seaquarium told Insider in a press release.

At that point, she will be flown to Washington state and housed in a natural sea pen, where she will get used to swimming in the open water. She will have to build up her muscle to be able to swim long distances, the Associated Press reported.

Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, is also helping to finance Lolita's release.

"The story of Lolita the orca has been near and dear to my heart. I am proud — and enthusiastic — to play a role in finally returning Lolita to her native Pacific Northwest," Irsay said in a press release shared with Insider.


At the news conference on Thursday, he said the cost of the relocation and release could reach "eight figures." Trainers will help her get used to the open water and teach her how to catch fish, he said.

"She doesn't know how to do that anymore," he said. "She's been in captivity too long."

Animal-rights activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have been calling for Lolita's release for years. In 2021, the 20-foot-long orca whale retired from performing but continued to live in a tank that measures 80 feet by 35 feet.