Feds approve deal affecting Miami Seaquarium’s orca Lolita

Feds clear way for Dolphin Company to move into Miami Seaquarium site

Miami Seaquarium’s famed orca Lolita has officially retired and her tank will no longer be on display to the public.

MIAMI – The feds cleared the way for a business deal that will affect the life of a killer whale and a dolphin held in captivity in Miami.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has allowed the Miami Seaquarium to transfer its lease to The Dolphin Company, Miami-Dade County’s mayor announced on Thursday night.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava believes this will help protect Lolita, also known as Tokitae, a 20-foot long female orca that has lived at the Miami Seaquarium since 1970, as she will no longer be performing and her tank will be closed to the public for viewing.

“Providing the highest standard of care for their marine inhabitants, including beloved orca Lolita, has been a top priority for me ... I‘m hopeful that this transfer of ownership will usher in an era of accountability, transparency, and collaboration,” Levine Cava tweeted.

“I believe that this company is truly committed to conservation and to animal welfare,” she added Friday. “And 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.”

The closure of the whale stadium the female orca shares with the pacific white-sided dolphin Li’i is among the conditions the new owners of the Miami Seaquarium must follow as part of the new license granted by the USDA.

What this means for the future of Lolita and Li’i is still a mystery.

“Right now, we’re concerned about her health,” Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado said. “There’s different opinions on if she can be released, if she can go to a sanctuary, but even moving her is very volatile. So I think right now, we’re hoping that she is stabilized and then we take it from there.”

MS Leisure Company, a subsidiary of The Dolphin Company, has the USDA license to operate the Miami Seaquarium starting Friday, the company announced.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights organization, celebrated the USDA’s decision since the license was conditional on no longer displaying Lolita or Lii, the dolphin confined with her.

“For the first time ever, the USDA is taking some action by tacitly acknowledging that Lolita’s tank cannot meet her needs. PETA is calling for this to be the first step toward releasing Lolita (and Lii) to a seaside sanctuary, before this long-suffering orca ends up dying in the same cramped tank she’s been confined to for over half a century,” Attorney Jared Goodman, of PETA, said in a statement.

Feds agree to license as long as Lolita, a killer whale, and Lii, the dolphin confined with her, will not be in public display.

Eduardo Albor, The Dolphin Company’s chief executive officer, credited Levine Cava and Regalado for the change.

“We are very excited to finally have completed the process to proceed with the operation and administration of the Miami Seaquarium,” Albor said in a statement, adding he was grateful for “the people who have dedicated their live staking care of all the animals ... including the rescued manatees, sea lions, dolphins and indeed our beloved Lolita.”

Assignment Desk Editor Emily Hales contributed to this report.

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About the Authors:

Parker Branton joined Local 10 News in January 2019 as a reporter. He was born and raised in Rome, Georgia, but now loves living on the sunny beaches of South Florida.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.