Lolita the whale dead after orca who survived decades captive in Miami

Lolita, an orca whale who served as a main attraction at the Miami Seaquarium, died Friday just as plans were in motion to free her from five decades of captivity.

In social media posts, the aquarium announced that the whale, whose name was changed to Toki, had been experiencing signs of distress from what the aquarium’s medical staff believed was a renal condition.

“Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story and especially the Lummi nation that considered her family,” the post said. “Those who had the privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit.”

At 56, Lolita was one of the oldest orcas in captivity. Animal activists fought for her freedom for decades, arguing that she deserved to return to her home in the Pacific Northwest.

The fight for Toki’s freedom:Lolita the killer whale to be freed from Florida aquarium after 30-year fight by animal advocates

Lolita’s life a story of survival

Lolita survived so much in her life, Pritam Singh, who leads Friends of Toki (Lolita), the animal rights group at the forefront of the effort to free the orca said at a news conference last spring announcing the plan to bring Lolita to her natural habitat.

Back in 1970, Lolita and a number of other whales were part of a violent capture from a pod in the Puget Sound near Seattle. Four baby whales and an adult were killed during the capture.

In 1980 at the aquarium, Lolita lost her mate Hugo to a brain aneurysm he suffered after repeatedly ramming his head into his tank. 

“She’s persevered through the difficulties that we human beings have enforced on her,” Singh said in March. “She lived through her captivity and the death of her family, she lived through her other family dying, and she lived through being in this small tank for so many years. When you see her, her life force, it just brings you to tears.”

He said it was entirely possible for Lolita to survive her move, citing the case of Keiko, the whale who inspired and starred in the 1993 film “Free Willy.”

Keiko became the first killer whale returned to the wild in 2002, more than 20 years after he was captured in waters off Iceland. He went on to survive for five years before dying of pneumonia at the age of 27.

Jim Irsay, who owns the Indianapolis Colts, agreed to pay for Lolita’s transfer and estimated that, had it happened, it would have cost upwards of $20 million.

Miami, world react to Toki’s death

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Ingrid Newkirk released this statement: “Kind people begged the Miami Seaquarium to end Lolita’s hellish life in a concrete cell and release her to a seaside sanctuary, where she could dive deep, feel the ocean’s currents, and even be reunited with the orca believed to be her mother, but plans to move her to a seaside sanctuary came too late, and Lolita was denied even a minute of freedom from her grinding 53 years in captivity. PETA urges families to honor Lolita’s memory by never visiting marine parks and is calling on the Seaquarium to continue with plans to send the dolphin who was Lolita’s tankmate to a sea sanctuary, along with all of the other dolphins, before the death toll rises, and for SeaWorld to learn from this tragedy and relinquish the orca Corky, who has been imprisoned in tiny tanks for nearly 54 years, before she shares Lolita’s fate.”

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