Activists hope Lolita’s death spurs release of Seaquarium’s dolphin, SeaWorld’s Corky

MIAMI – South Florida is still mourning the Miami Seaquarium’s orca Lolita, who died last week, and now activists are hoping her death spurs the release of the Seaquarium’s last remaining dolphin that shared a tank with Lolita and SeaWorld’s Corky.

“Following the death of the orca Lolita, who spent more than five decades imprisoned in a tiny tank at the Miami Seaquarium, PETA supporters will descend on SeaWorld…to call for the release of Corky, the longest-held captive orca in the world,” PETA said in a statement.

After 53 yeas in captivity, plans were in the works to move the 57-year-old orca back to her home waters in the Pacific Northwest.

But on Friday, the Miami Seaquarium announced that Lolita went days suffering from serious discomfort before later passing away.

They believe she died from a renal condition.

“I entrusted, as many people did, for the specialists to do the right thing, and they were doing the right thing. It was really, I think, just a matter of she just became exhausted,” activist Lawrence Curtis said.

Lolita had been violently captured in 1970 from her family in the Pacific Ocean and was forced to perform with trainers as a tourist attraction for decades.

“I’m saddened, but I’m enraged because these facilities are still here,” Curtis said.

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Many animal advocates now hope Lolita’s death helps free Corky, who is still listed as a tourist attraction by SeaWorld in San Diego, California.

The calls are also getting louder for the removal of the last remaining dolphin at the Miami Seaquarium that shared a tank with Lolita, Li’i.

The Seaquarium’s other two dolphins, mother-son Loke and Elelo, were previously removed and are at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Li’i is Elelo’s father.

“Shedd Aquarium in Chicago responded to an urgent need to provide sanctuary….from the Miami Seaquarium living in insufficient environmental conditions,” a spokesperson said Monday.

Local 10 News spoke to former Seaquarium employee Tricia Nicewicz Monday.

“Li'i is this gregarious phenomenal dolphin, he loves people, loves interacting, high energy, Pacific white-sided dolphins in general are just a high-energy animals,” Nicewicz said. “So he just loved interactions and having the mental simulation of working with trainers.”

Nicewicz said she’s “sad and heartbroken” over Li'i being left to swim solo.

“It was never good idea for it to just be him and Toki in the first place, that is not really true companionship for either of them, it wasn’t an ideal situation but certainly the best that could be provided,” she said. “(He) watched his long-term companion die in the same pool that he was and that could be traumatizing for him.Wwe do know animals can experience trauma and now he is by himself, which for an animal that is as social as he is, is not ideal, and can lead to other health spirals as well.”

Many now wonder what’s next for the Seaquarium after Lolita’s death. Brand and marketing expert Allen Adamson, who co-founded the firm Metaforce, weighed in.

“They have to shift their focus away from being a circus or entertaining venue where you see animals do unnatural things to an education venue where they can educate the community on the ocean and what lives in them,” Adamson said. “There are a lot of aquariums in the country that make that their focus rather than capturing a wild animal and forcing them to do unnatural things.”

He said such a change takes time.

“People have spent years thinking about aquariums as a place to see a dolphin jump out of the water or an orca dance across the tank and now they need to think of them as how can we learn, how can our kids learn, the importance of animals that live in the ocean,” Adamson said.

A spokesperson for animal rights group PETA said it is urging the Miami Seaquarium to “continue with its plan to release Lolita’s tankmate, Li’i, to a seaside sanctuary, along with all the other dolphins, before they suffer the same fate as Lolita.”

The Seaquarium’s ownership group hasn’t responded to requests for comment about Li’i’s future.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a misspelling of Li’i’s name.

About the Authors:

Amanda Batchelor is the Digital Executive Producer for

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."