Florida aquarium to release orca whale after 50 years in captivity

The hope is that she will reconnect with her mother in her home waters.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Lolita, the orca whale.jpg
Lolita, the orca whale.

Marc Averette/Wikimedia 

After holding her in captivity for 50 years, a Florida aquarium is finally releasing an orca whale named Lolita back to her home waters.

According to Business Insider, the aquarium made the announcement during a news conference on Thursday.

The move will see the Miami Seaquarium collaborate with the animal-rights group Friends of Lolita to bring the animal back into her area of origin in the Pacific Northwest, where she may reunite with her 95 year-old-mother.

Lolita is believed to be 57 years old and was captured from the Pacific coast near Seattle at the age of 4.

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

But her path is not so simple. She will need to receive "round-the-clock care" before her relocation in the next 18 to 24 months, Miami Seaquarium told Business Insider.

Trained to tackle the open seas

She will first be relocated to Washington state, where she will be placed in a natural sea pen aimed at getting her used to swimming in the open water.  She currently does not have enough muscles to swim long distances and that is something experts will help her work on.

Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who is helping to finance Lolita's release, told Business Insider the cost of the relocation and release could reach "eight figures." Trainers will have to be hired to teach the animal how to catch fish, he said.

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

"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 concluded according to Business Insider.

There have been calls for Lolita’s release for years, as orca whales are too massive to thrive in the enclosed spaces offered by aquariums.

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