Human Interest

Orca to return to native waters after over 5 decades in captivity in Miami

Miami, Mar 30 (EFE).- Lolita, an orca that has spent more than 50 years in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium, is set to return to the waters off the United States’ northwest coast where she was captured in 1970.

That transfer is to be effected under an agreement between the oceanarium where she lives and entities that fund the cost of her care.

Eduardo Albor, the CEO of The Dolphin Company, which operates the Miami Seaquarium, said in remarks to Efe Thursday that the killer whale could return to an area of the Pacific Ocean near the US-Canada border in a period of between six months to a year.

However, he said that time frame is subject to modification.

Albor was present at a news conference Thursday where Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava officially announced that Lolita would finally be set free.

The orca was four years old when she was captured from her pod and sold to the Miami Seaquarium for nearly $20,000.

The Lummi indigenous people, who are based in a coastal area of the Pacific Northwest region where the killer whale was born, consider her a person and call her Tokitae or Toki.

Thursday’s announcement comes after years of protests by animal welfare groups that said the conditions in which the orca was confined – a pool measuring 18 meters (60 feet) in length and 6.1 meters in depth – were inadequate.

“Of course, the place where she’ll be transferred will be much bigger than those dimensions,” said Albor, who noted that the process of transferring Lolita “will be complicated.”

When relocated to the Northeast Pacific Ocean via cargo plane, Lolita will be released into a cove rather than in open ocean.

The orca suffered a serious infection last year, but a medical examination in February by independent veterinarians appeared to show she had made a full recovery.

“In any case, we need the green light of the veterinarians to start the process,” Albor said, indicating that the killer whale’s health is as good as possible at the moment.

Philanthropist and environmentalist Pritam Singh, leader and co-founder of the Friends of Toki organization that collaborates with The Dolphin Company to provide adequate care for the orca and also is leading the effort to relocate her to her natural habitat, told Efe that the agreement was possible thanks to the desire to provide the killer whale the best possible quality of life.

He said he has already paid $1.5 million in caring for the orca and will probably have to contribute a similar amount toward the process of getting her back to the Pacific Northwest.

The animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has filed several lawsuits in a bid to free Lolita, hailed Thursday’s announcement.

“During a news conference held in Miami today, the Miami Seaquarium confirmed that it plans to release the long-suffering orca Lolita – who has been kept in a tiny tank for over 50 years – to a seaside sanctuary in Washington state in roughly 18 to 24 months!” PETA said.

“This announcement follows a massive campaign by PETA – which has pursued several lawsuits on her behalf – and local residents and celebrities that raised awareness of her plight through dozens of protests, as well as The Dolphin Company’s partnership with Friends of Toki.” EFE


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