The theme park owner, an animal rights group, and NFL owner announced on Thursday that a plan is made to send Lolita – an orca that has lived in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium for more than 50 years – to her home waters in the Pacific.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay mentioned during a news conference that the agreement to be a part of Lolita’s journey to freedom is exciting, and that “the story of Lolita is near and dear” to his heart.
Lolita will be transferred from her marine park tank, which measures 80ft by 35ft (24m by 11m) and is 20 feet (six metres) deep, and moved by plane to Pacific waters off Washington state. She will be initially placed inside a large net while trainers and veterinarians teach her how to catch fish and survive.
The orca will be under 24-hour watch until she acclimates and settles into her new surroundings, and her caretakers at the Seaquarium are already preparing her for the journey.
The Dolphin Company, which owns the Seaquarium, took ownership of the park in 2021, and last year it announced it would no longer stage shows with Lolita, under an agreement with federal regulators.
Overall, the mission will cost up to 20 million US dollars (£16 million), and Mr. Irsay has agreed to pay for Lolita’s transfer.
Lolita has had multiple health scares over the years, including an infection that caused her to stop eating back in October, but her supporters believe it’s entirely possible for her to survive her move and thrive in the wild.
The capture of Lolita and several other whales from a pod in the Puget Sound near Seattle in 1970 was violent, and 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.
The non-profit Friends of Lolita, co-founded by environmentalist Pritam Singh, has been fighting for the orca’s freedom for decades, and Singh said at a news conference that “she’s persevered through the difficulties that we human beings have enforced on her.”
Many questions and hurdles remain, including the financial and logistical issues associated with moving a 5,000-pound whale across the country and teaching her how to hunt again.
But Jim Irsay and Lolita’s supporters remain optimistic, and hope that the orca will soon be able to return to her home in the Pacific Northwest, after decades of captivity in Miami.