Lolita the Orca has been forced to perform for millions of spectators at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida since her capture in the 1970’s. Now, after 52 ‘miserable’ years in captivity the Killer Whale will be freed.
The 57-year old Orca was taken from her pod from the waters of Washington when she was just four years old, and was forced to perform shows from her cramped tank everyday until her retirement last year.
The Miami Seaquarium wrote in a statement: "Today, March 30th, for the first time ever, a private company with marine mammals under human care, and a non-profit animal welfare organisation, executed a binding agreement with one goal - return the beloved Lolita to her home waters," adding that the orca "will receive the highest quality care as the team works to make relocation possible in the next 18 to 24 months".
Lolita, also known as Tokitae, was pulled from performing after falling ill. She is currently the oldest Orca to be held in captivity. This comes from decades-long campaigns from activists who have protested her poor living conditions and said her tank was too small.
Lolita has become a poster animal in drives to change the way society thinks about animals in captivity and performing animals, with her freedom being at the forefront of releasing animals in captivity back into their natural habitat.
As news broke, Pritam Singh, founder of nonprofit Friends of Lolita, admitted getting the whale home was not a simple task, saying: “There’s a lot of work to be done but I think we’re up to the task."
PETA Foundation Vice President and General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman said: "If Lolita is finally returned to her home waters, there will be cheers from around the world, including from PETA, which has pursued several lawsuits on Lolita’s behalf and battered the Seaquarium with protests demanding her freedom for years.
“If the Seaquarium agrees to move her, it’ll offer her long-awaited relief after five miserable decades in a cramped tank and send a clear signal to other parks that the days of confining highly intelligent, far-ranging marine mammals to dismal prisons are done and dusted."
Mayor Levine Cava, who previously defended Lolita’s captivity saying, “as long as she has been in our care, she has been cared for” called the agreement "historic” and a great day for Miami.
She said: “So many have hoped and prayed for this result for many, many years.”
It is believed Lolita’s mother, Ocean Sun, still swims freely with her pod, L25. Ocean Sun is an approximately 95 year old female Southern Resident killer whale. She is considered the oldest living Southern Resident.
According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, southern orcas which spend several months of the year in Washington, were added to the endangered species list in 2005. The population of these whales has "fluctuated considerably" since the 1970s and was "reduced during 1965-75 because of captures for marine parks".