More than 50 years after the orca known as Lolita was captured for public display, plans are in place to return her from the Miami Seaquarium to her home waters in the Pacific Northwest, where a nearly century-old, endangered killer whale believed to be her mother still swims.
Lolita, also known as Tokitae, was about 4 years old when she was captured in Puget Sound in summer 1970, during a time of deadly orca roundups. She spent decades performing for paying crowds before falling ill.
Last year the Miami Seaquarium announced it would no longer stage shows with her, under an agreement with federal regulators. Lolita — now 57 years old and 5,000 pounds (2,267 kilograms) — currently lives in a tank that measures 80 feet by 35 feet (24 meters by 11 meters) and is 20 feet (6 meters) deep.
The orca believed to be her mother, called Ocean Sun, continues to swim free with other members of their clan — known as L pod — and is estimated to be more than 90 years old. That has given advocates of her release optimism that Tokitae could still maybe have a long life in the wild.
“It’s a step toward restoring our natural environment, fixing what we’ve messed up with exploitation and development,” said Howard Garrett, president of the board of the advocacy group Orca Network, based on Washington state’s Whidbey Island. “I think she’ll be excited and relieved to be home — it’s her old neighborhood.”