Lolita the orca may be moving

The 56-year-old killer whale currently lives in the smallest whale tank in the country at the Miami Seaquarium as she recovers from a serious illness that recently had her under a 24-hour watch.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Lolita, the ailing orca at the Miami Seaquarium, could be on the move soon, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava exclusively told Local 10 News.

On Monday morning, Sky 10 flew over Lolita’s tank. The 56-year-old killer whale also known as Tokitae or Toki has been here for 52 years in the smallest whale tank in the country as she recovers from a recent serious illness that had her under a 24-hour watch.

“My understanding is she’s stable, and that they’re not concerned for her health at the current time,” Levine Cava said.

The county is waiting for what is believed to be a final United States Department of Agriculture inspection report that will allow the county to transfer the lease and operations of the seaquarium to its new owners, The Dolphin Company based out of Mexico.

“That’s my expectation and my fervent I hope for the protection of the animals and for the world that is watching and concerned,” the mayor said.

[ALSO SEE: Miami Seaquarium’s famed orca Lolita in declining health, ex-employee tells Local 10]

Critical will be the findings on Lolita’s pool and stadium, which according to a June USDA report poses a safety hazard to both the animals and the public after the pools and structure were both found in disrepair, work that can’t begin with Lolita and her dolphin tank mates still living there.

“As soon as we get the USDA findings, we are excited to work with the new management team to make sure that she can be safe in her environment and that she can be safely moved,” Levine Cava said.

What’s still unclear is where Lolita will go. There is no other habitat in the Seaquarium where she can live, and The Dolphin Company has never owned an orca before:

“I know that they recognize that they’re coming into a situation where the public wants to be reassured that these animals will be well cared for,” Levine Cava said. “And I believe that they will bring in the resources and the personnel that they need to do a good job.”

Troubling to animal advocates is the fact that The Dolphin Company says it plans to hire Lolita’s current team of trainers and caregivers. That’s despite an ongoing separate USDA investigation into management at the Seaquarium for serious suspected animal welfare violations including the deaths of two dolphins, feeding rotten fish to the animals and critical water quality and infrastructure issues.

“I am concerned about all of it. I am concerned about the fact that there have been deaths,” Levine Cava said. “I’m concerned about the allegations, I’m concerned about the fact that it’s taking so long to make this transition, and we’re doing everything in our power to move this forward. ... But we have to rely on the USDA. It’s their jurisdiction. We do not have the authority to mandate those changes on our own, except to allow us access.”

The county is still pushing to have a third-party veterinarian come in and examine Lolita to give an independent health assessment and determine whether she’s even strong enough to move. So far the present owners of the Seaquarium have repeatedly denied that request.

“There are veterinarians all over the world ready to help,” Levine Cava said. “There are people all over the world watching and praying for the health of Lolita, and we stand with them. We are very eager to get in an independent review.”

To prevent this from ever happening again, the county is amending its lease with the new owners of the Seaquarium to give the county more oversight authority. That includes sending in a county-appointed independent vet to examine any of the animals should the need arise.

The Miami Seaquarium continues to deny Local 10 News’ requests for an interview and no further information was given on when exactly Lolita would be moved or where she will go. Local 10 has also reached out to The Dolphin Company for comment on this story and has received no response yet.

Additional drone footage for this story was provided by Mireya Mayor.

About the Author:

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