Lolita - orca

From WikiAnimal
DiedAugust 18, 2023
Miami Seaquarium
Cause of deathKidney failure
Captured atPenn Cove
Capture ageApprox. 3
Age at death57
Capture dateAugust 8, 1970

Lolita (Tokitae) was a 57 year-old female orca who was captive at the Miami Seaquarium since her capture in 1970. She was captured in the Salish Sea when she was approximately 3 years old.


Main article: Penn Cove orca captures

On August 8, 1970, around 80 orcas from the Southern Resident population were captured as part of the infamous Penn Cove captures. Out of the captured orcas seven are taken and sold to marine parks.

Former diver John Crowe, who appears in the documentary Blackfish, was part of the capture team at the time. He told of how, when the captures were over, there were several dead orcas in the nets. He and two other crew members were then ordered to cut the orcas open, fill their bellies with rocks, tie anchors to their tails and sink them.

When the bodies of some of the orcas washed ashore some months later, there was a huge public outcry of people concerned with the welfare of the animals as well as the impact of captures on wild orcas. This prompted the government to pass the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972 which protected wild orca from being harassed or killed, and requiring whalers to apply for special permits in order to capture orcas.

The seven orcas taken captive during these captures were sold quickly. One young female, originally known as Tokitae, was sold to the Miami Seaquarium, where she joined another Southern Resident named Hugo, who had been captured in 1968. When Tokitae arrived at the Seaquarium, her name was changed to Lolita.

Miami Seaquarium

At first, the two orcas were kept separate, but would often call to each other. Soon, the decision was made to move both orcas into the same 60 x 80 x 20 ft. tank (18.28 x 24.38 x 6.09 metres). However, they apparently did not get along at first, which caused many behavioral issues that involved some aggression towards trainers.

In the early 1970’s, the two were involved in several incidents with their trainers. Trainer Manny Valasco recalls both young orcas becoming aggressive and lunging at trainers on the platform. During another incident, trainer Chip Kirk was pushed around by Hugo and left with a permanent scar on his arm while another trainer, Bob Pulaski, was grabbed by Hugo and had his wetsuit torn from him by both orcas.

When Lolita became sexually mature, she and Hugo reportedly mated many times, including during shows. Despite Lolita apparently becoming pregnant several times, she never delivered any live offspring.

On March 4, 1980, Hugo died from a brain aneurysm as a result of his habit of repeatedly slamming himself against the tank walls. His body was removed from the tank and sent to the Miami Dade Dump while Lolita was left on her own.

Since then, Lolita has only been in the company of smaller species of dolphin; she has not seen another orca since Hugo’s death.

The campaign to release Lolita

For many years, activists and some researchers have been pushing for the potential release of Lolita into a sea pen in her native waters in Washington state, but the Miami Seaquarium had no plans of releasing Lolita. At the time, many argued that Lolita is a good candidate for sea pen rehabilitation based on the impeccable state of her teeth as opposed to the teeth of other captives, the fact that her presumed mother, L-25 Ocean Sun, is still alive, and due to the Southern Residents being one of the most heavily studied populations of orca in the world.

On April 29, 2013, NOAA accepted a petition to include Lolita in the Endangered Species Act listing of the Southern Residents, which formerly excluded captive animals taken prior to the listing.

On February 4, 2015, NOAA announced that Lolita would be included under the ESA listing of the Southern Residents. However, they stated that this would not impact her residence at the Miami Seaquarium, and any future plans to move or release Lolita would require a permit from NOAA Fisheries and rigorous scientific review. They also expressed concern over the possibility of disease transmission, the ability for her to adequately learn to forage for food, social integration skills, as well as any behavioral patterns that she has developed in captivity that could impact wild orcas.

During the autumn of 2021, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued an inspection report for Miami Seaquarium, which revealed that Palace Entertainment's animal management practices were significantly below the minimum standards mandated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The report highlighted several ways in which the facility was not meeting the required standards, including training Toki to perform behaviors that resulted in injuries. The most concerning aspect of the inspection was the observation that the caretaking team was not following the instructions of the attending veterinarian, who plays a critical role in ensuring that minimum animal care standards are met. Additionally, several practices, such as keeping incompatible animals together, have led to the death of dolphins and sea lions. As a result of this disappointing inspection report, officials from Miami-Dade County, including the mayor, became involved in supervising the facility's operations.

In 2022, ownership of the marine theme park was transferred to MS Leisure, the US branch of The Dolphin Company, which is headquartered in Mexico. In March of the same year, Miami Seaquarium was granted a new exhibitor's license by APHIS under the AWA. From the outset, MS Leisure made it evident that it had no intention of retaining Lolita.

On March 30th, 2023, it was announced by the Miami Seaquarium and its new owner, The Dolphin Company, that Lolita will be sent back to her place of origin in the Pacific Northwest, along with her pacific white-sided dolphin companion, Li'i. This decision was made with the collaboration of Miami-Dade County, the nonprofit organization Friends of Lolita, and Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts and a philanthropist. A sea pen in the Pacific Northwest will be used to acclimate and transport the animals, with the entire process estimated to take between 18-24 months and cost approximately $15-20 million, which will mostly be funded by Irsay.[1]


Lolita died on August 18, 2023 at the Miami Seaquarium and her body was transported to the University of Georgia for a necropsy to confirm the cause of death. She exhibited signs of discomfort before her death, and it was believed to be due to a renal condition.[2]

According to NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that oversees the public display of marine mammals, Tokitae’s official cause of death was kidney failure. This was based on information provided by the Miami Seaquarium, which performed a necropsy on Tokitae shortly after her death. However, the Seaquarium did not release any details or results of the necropsy to the public or to NOAA Fisheries. The necropsy itself was opposed by the Lummi Nation, a Native American tribe that considered Tokitae a family member and had been campaigning for her return to her home waters.[3]


Tokitae’s death marked the end of an era for the Southern Resident orcas, who lost one of their oldest and most iconic members. Her story also raised public awareness and concern for the plight of captive and wild orcas. Tokitae’s ashes were returned to her native waters by the Lummi Nation in a private ceremony.[3]

Other orcas captured at Penn Cove August 8, 1970

See also

External links