Lolita’s retirement from shows gives animal advocates hope

Lolita, also known as Tokitae, will no longer have to peform for profit. This is giving animal advocates hope that she may one day return home.

MIAMI – The Miami Seaquarium is now under new management and the beloved killer whale will no longer be performing.

Is a new home also in her future? That is the big question that as of yet cannot be answered, but animal activists who have long been fighting to set her free see this as a positive step forward toward finally sending her home.

After 52 years, the show is finally over for Lolita. The 56-year-old orca, also known as Tokitae or Toki, has now retired from performing at the Miami Seaquarium- and so has Li’i, the Pacific white-sided dolphin that shares her tank.

It’s a move that animal rights activists have long been fighting for. Attorney Jared Goodman, of PETA, said they are hopeful and calling on the Dolphin Company to ensure that this is a first step toward sending her and Li’i to a seaside sanctuary before they die in this incredibly cramped tank.

The Dolphin Company is the Seaquarium’s new owner. The USDA granted them a new license to operate the park on the condition that they no longer display Toki or Li’i, but that also means the animals lose their federal safety nets.

“This is the USDA effectively washing their hands off Lolita and no longer requiring that she be held consistent with the Animal Welfare Act and because of that, she doesn’t have adequate protection under the law,” Goodman said.

The Dolphin Company has yet to announce their plans for Toki and Li’i only that they will continue to take good care of them using their current team, but the company, which has 32 parks all over the world, has never owned an orca before.

Naomi Rose, a marine mammal expert, said they’re not into orcas and she doesn’t know why they are buying Lolita and what are they going to do with her.

Lolita hasn’t performed in months. Recently she has been very ill. There have been reports she was battling pneumonia. In a scathing inspection last June, the USDA deemed her stadium a safety hazard and reported her pool, the smallest whale tank in the nation, was also in serious disrepair.

The structure is now permanently closed to the public. Recently, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, “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.”

There isn’t anything official about a move just yet. Toki’s age and health remain an issue. And though the county has been pushing for an independent veterinarian to come in and objectively assess her, that still hasn’t happened.

“Moving her may not be that traumatic if she’s healthy, but if she’s not, it’s very dangerous sending her home,” Rose said adding, “I want that for her, but is it possible? I don’t know.”

Waiting patiently are the members of the Lummi Nation, the Pacific Northwest indigenous people, who for years have been lobbying to bring Toki home to a seaside sanctuary, near waters where she was captured back in 1970, and where her family still swims today.

And in the background of all this is an ongoing USDA investigation into serious animal welfare violations by the previous owners of the Seaquarium and how that will affect operations going forward is still not known. What is certain is that after 52 years, it is the beginning of a new era at the Miami Seaquarium — one without Lolita.

11 p.m. report

The Miami Seaquarium is now under new management and the beloved killer whale will no longer be performing. archives

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About the Author:

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