Lolita the orca is one step closer to being released from the Miami Seaquarium. The killer whale, who was made famous in the 2003 documentary Lolita: Slave to Entertainment, has lived in captivity for 44 years. Although it is unclear whether Lolita could survive in the wild, activists want to her to have a chance.
As reported by Yahoo News, Lolita was captured off the coast of Seattle, Washington, in 1970. Biologists estimate she was between four and ten years old.
Following her capture, the orca was purchased by Miami Seaquarium as a companion for their male orca — Hugo. Although the whales remained together for 10 years, they never produced any offspring.
Following Hugo’s death in 1980, Lolita has remained the Seaquarium’s sole orca. Although she is alone, activists have argued that her tank is simply too small for a killer whale.
Measuring 80-feet-long by 60-feet-wide and 20-feet-deep, Lolita’s tank “is one of the smallest whale enclosures in the world.” Although she made the Miami Seaquarium a great success, activists believe the orca should be allowed to retire in her natural habitat.
Miami Seaquarium curator Robert Rose said it would be irresponsible to release Lolita back into the ocean. Citing a 2013 NOAA report, Rose said the orca is “going to die without question.”
In their report, the NOAA explained that “release of a captive animal into the wild has the potential to injure or kill not only the particular animal, but also the wild populations of that same species… ”
Despite the NOAAs recommendations, activists believe they have a solid plan to help the killer whale transition back to her former home. Upon release, Lolita would be kept in a protected cove near the place she was originally captured.
Orca Network Director Howard Garrett said the location will allow Lolita to “communicate, and begin reforming that bond” with her original pod. As the cove is protected, the orca will also have an opportunity to relearn survival skills in a safe environment.
As explained by Orca Network, Lolita will also undergo a complete examination to ensure she is in good health and free from parasites and communicable disease. The activists insist the killer whale will not be released into open waters until she is ready.
Although it took decades of work, the National Marine Fisheries Service has agreed to review Lolita’s case. Spokesman Michael Milstein confirmed that the service will announce their decision before the end of this month.
It is impossible to know how Lolita will respond to her natural habitat. However, activists believe the orca deserves a better life.