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Lolita dies at Miami Seaquarium

Lolita in her tank at the Miami Seaquarium in an undated photo. (Miami Seaquarium)

After more than five decades in captivity in questionable conditions at the Miami Seaquarium, the 57-year-old orca best known by the public as Lolita died Aug. 18.

“… Toki started exhibiting serious signs of discomfort, which her full Miami Seaquarium and Friends of Toki medical team began treating immediately and aggressively,” a statement from the Seaquarium said Aug. 18. “Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story and especially to the Lummi Nation that considered her family.”

Seaquarium officials said Lolita, who was captured in Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest and transferred to Miami when she was approximately four-years-old, died from what was believed to be a renal condition.

Members of the Lummi Nation, located just west of Bellingham, Washington, near Lolita’s home waters in the Salish Sea, long considered it a “sacred obligation” to see her freed. They refer to Lolita as Tokitae, Toki, and Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut. The Lummi have received support in their efforts from other tribes over the years, including the Seminole Tribe and the Miccosukee Tribe.

Groups like Friends of Toki (formally Friends of Lolita), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and, among others, sought to have Lolita released for the remainder of her life in an ocean sanctuary.  Eduardo Albor, the CEO of The Dolphin Company, which acquired the Seaquarium in 2022, had recently set those wheels into motion.  

“Not a single effort we made to give Lolita an opportunity was a waste of time and money. My heart is truly broken,” Albor said in a social media post soon after her death.

The Dolphin Company had first announced its intentions to release Lolita earlier this year. Officials said they had entered into a “formal and binding agreement” with Friends of Toki and other entities to move her to her home waters. Philanthropist Jim Irsay, the owner and CEO of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, was also helping to fund Lolita’s relocation. Last March, Albor said relocating Lolita was one of the reasons that motivated The Dolphin Company to acquire the Seaquarium.

“Plans to make this move came too late, and Lolita was denied even a minute of freedom from her grinding 53 years in captivity,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, said in an Aug. 18 statement.

Newkirk said PETA wants SeaWorld San Diego to “learn from this tragedy” and free the orca Corky that she said has been in captivity there for nearly 54 years. She also called on the Seaquarium to continue with its plans to send the dolphin that was Lolita’s tank mate to a seaside sanctuary, along with all other dolphins in captivity.

‘She needs to come home’

The Lummi Nation still wants Lolita returned to her home waters for burial, and efforts to do so look possible.

“The Nation fully supports bringing her home and that has not changed,” Lummi Nation Chairman Anthony Hillaire, said in a statement. “We have our culture, our way of life, the way we do things, our own protocol, and we believe she still needs to be here. She needs to come home to her family.”

Albor has said he’s also supportive of the effort, but details have not been released.

Soon after her death, the Seaquarium used construction equipment to lift Lolita out of the 80-foot long, 35-foot wide, and 20-foot deep tank where she lived, and placed her on a refrigerated semi-trailer truck to be transported to the University of Georgia for a necropsy.

Lolita was one of the few remaining orcas in captivity. The Seaquarium discontinued the shows that featured her in 2022, the same year it was acquired by The Dolphin Company.

The Seaquarium, located at 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway on Virginia Key east of downtown Miami, first opened in 1955. It features a variety of sea creatures, including dolphins, sea lions, manatees, reef fish and sharks.

PETA activists gathered to mark Lolita’s death and protest against the Miami Seaquarium on Aug. 20. (PETA)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at