Miami Seaquarium’s famed orca Lolita in declining health, ex-employee tells Local 10

Could the beloved orca be on a 24-hour health watch because of ill health?

VIRGINIA KEY, Fla. – It’s a dire outlook about the health of famed killer whale Lolita. Local 10 News has learned the 56-year-old orca is now on a 24-hour health watch at the Miami Seaquarium.

A former employee of the Miami Seaquarium said they are concerned about the killer whale and predicted she may die in the next six months.

“You can see it in Toki. She just doesn’t look good. She doesn’t feel good. So, I mean, if we can get her stable. I think she needs to go sooner than later,” said the former employee. That ex-worker doesn’t want to be identified because they haven’t secured legal representation yet, but they felt the message was so important, they wanted to speak out.

Lolita, also known as Tokitae or Toki as she is known by her trainers and caregivers, has been confined to the smallest whale tank in the world since she was captured 52 years ago and sold to the park as a baby killer whale at 4 years old.

“It makes me feel disgusted. It makes me feel ashamed to have ever been at Miami Seaquarium,” the former employee said.

The former employee spoke to Local 10 News right before we received confidential information from an inside source that said that the Seaquarium has now placed Toki on a 24-hour watch, which is not much different than a critical patient in the intensive care unit. The news came after last week’s tweet from PETA that said Toki could die any day.

A spokesperson from PETA said that an anonymous whistleblower informed them “that Lolita is suffering from pneumonia.”

In a statement, the Seaquarium confirmed that Toki is being monitored 24 hours.

“Toki has a dedicated, loving team of veterinarians and caregivers that continue to closely monitor her health every day in order to provide the highest possible quality of care. Her condition remains the same, and she is doing alright.”

The Seaquarium released a Facebook live video last week insisting that Toki is getting better, but the former employee strongly disagrees.

“What does that video show you of Toki?” we asked.

“Just her behavior alone is telling us she’s not happy. That’s not her voice. That’s not her vocals. She’s swimming. She’s sinking a little bit. She’s kind of slow. She’s not very attentive. That’s not her -- something . . . something’s wrong with her.”

“Does that alarm you?” we asked.

“One hundred percent. Absolutely. Something’s wrong with that animal,” the former employee told Local 10 News.

A recent USDA inspection report from June revealed that her longtime attending veterinarian of 23 years was concerned when the newly hired curator made Toki perform fast swims and big jumps despite her age and a jaw injury. And that her daily intake of food was reduced by 30 pounds a day by the new curator.

The report said that she and other animals in the park were fed rotting fish for eight days without her longtime vet’s approval.

The former employee claims that Toki’s health has been steadily deteriorating for the past year.

“I bet she’ll die in the next sixth months. . . I don’t think she’ll make it that much longer,” the former employee said.

The source also said what is so alarming is that Miami Seaquarium fired Toki’s longtime vet of 23 years last summer. The doctor that is taking care of her now has barely six years of veterinary experience and has never worked with orcas. Not only that, she is the only doctor on-site to take care of all of the Seaquarium’s animals, the source said.

(See the USDA inspection report)

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.