The world’s second oldest captive orca, Lolita, will trek across country and return to her home waters in the Pacific Northwest with the help of NFL Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
The move was announced Thursday at a news conference attended by Dolphin Co., operator of the Miami Seaquarium where Lolita has lived for over 50 years, the nonprofit Friends of Toki, Miami-Dade County officials and Mr. Irsay.
Lolita, also known as Tokitae or Toki, was born in 1966 and brought to the Miami Seaquarium in 1970. Lolita was captured along with six other orcas and is the only one of the seven who is still alive.
Only Corky II, a female orca born in 1965 and resident at San Diego’s SeaWorld since 1987, is older among captive killer whales.
Lolita has not performed at the Seaquarium since March 2022, when she contracted a bacterial infection that almost took her life. Since then she has remained in her 80 foot long and 35 foot wide tank.
While previous Seaquarium owners were opposed to any move of Lolita, Dolphin Co. CEO Eduardo Albor said in December that he was “100% committed” to moving Lolita back to the Pacific Northwest.
Mr. Albor’s daughter, on his first visit to the facility, had urged him to release Lolita if he ever bought the Seaquarium.
Friends of Toki and the Dolphin Co. have entered into a binding agreement to move the orca from the Seaquarium to a sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest. The plan would require federal regulatory approval, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Department of Agriculture.
According to a post on the Seaquarium’s Instagram page, the agreement is the first such agreement between a private company that keeps marine mammals in captivity and a non-profit animal welfare organization.
At the press conference, Mr. Irsay reiterated his desire to do whatever it takes to let Lolita go home, calling the creature the “Cal Ripken Jr. of whales” in terms of longevity and toughness, according to the Miami Herald.
“Without a doubt, I know that Lolita wants to go to open waters. My only mission is to help this whale break free. She wants to go home,” Mr Irsay said, according to WPLG, a Miami ABC affiliate.
Mr. Irsay will help provide the $15-20 million needed for the move, which could take 18-24 months, including prep and travel.
Source : www.washingtontimes.com