Local Controversy Over “Disappearance” of Miami Seaquarium’s Lolita

May 24, 2022

For 52 years, families and children shrieked with delight as “Lolita the Killer Whale” made her iconic leap out of the water, splashing audience members in the Key Biscayne sun and gathering cheers with every show.

Now, as of this March, Lolita’s tank is closed to the public and little is known of the famous orca’s condition. Early that month, the Miami Seaquarium announced that it would be ending Lolita’s shows following health concerns and a new license with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

This followed a PETA alert in February that Lolita was suffering from pneumonia, which sparked concern throughout South Florida over the orca’s condition. However, shortly after, the Seaquarium responded with a video of Lolita in her tank, eating and playing with her trainers and seemingly recovering.

The lifespan for an orca in captivity is expected to be up to 45 years, on average. At an elderly 56, Lolita’s advanced age is one factor of the Seaquarium’s decision for her to retire.

“As with any animal who has exceeded their anticipated life span, we will continue to monitor and care for her closely,” the initial Seaquarium statement said, according to NPR.

The most recent update on Lolita’s condition was in late April, when the Seaquarium brought a team of veterinarians to examine the orca to determine whether she can be released back into the wild, for the first time in over half a century.

The recent events that drew national attention to the local Seaquarium follow decades of controversy and concern from animal rights activists, who claim that Lolita’s tank is far too small and that her treatment is inhumane. Activists also raise moral issues regarding her captivity for over half a century, considered the longest period for any orca on Earth. Large organizations, such as PETA, have spoken out on the issue, calling for more transparency from the Seaquarium regarding Lolita’s health and a potential release.

However, another critical aspect of the controversy is Lolita’s originating from the Puget Sound, located in Washington State, where she was known as Tokitae by the Lummi Nation. Members of the Native American community are eager to potentially see the return of the orca, who they consider stolen.

“Let’s bring her home,” Sit Ki Kadem (Doug James), a member of the Lummi Nation, told Fox 13 News Seattle.

As of now, Lolita remains at the Miami Seaquarium under close care. Although the orca’s shows may be missed by members of the South Florida community, many continue to hope for her peaceful retirement.

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