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Lolita the Orca may be returned to the ocean after decades in captivity

After more than 50 years in captivity, an orca could be freed in the Pacific Northwest.

Lolita, also known as Tokitae, was four years old when her capture occurred in 1970 during an era of orca killings. Since then she has been living at the Miami Seaquarium.

However, a surprising alliance was formed that included Eduardo Albor, the owner of the theme park, and Jim Irsay, owner of NFL Philanthropist Jim Irsay.

On Thursday, they announced plans to release Lolita at a news conference.

Image: Jim Irsay (CEO of the Indianapolis Colts), talks while Pritam Singh (Friends of Lolita) claps during a news conference that announced Lolita’s freedom. Pic by AP

Mr Irsay, Indianapolis Colts owner, said that he was excited to be part of Lolita’s journey to freedom. “I know Lolita would love to be free.”

Lolita was captured by the Miami Seaquarium veterinarian in Puget Sound in 1970. This is an inlet of Pacific Ocean in the northwest US state of Washington. It cost $20,000 (PS16,000).

She was a performer for many decades, until last year, when the park agreed to stop staging shows with her as part of a deal with regulators.

She is the second-oldest living orca after Ocean Sun. Her mother, which is believed to be Ocean Sun, continues to swim freely with the other members of their family in the waters between Washington and Canada.

Ocean Sun is more than 90 years old. This gives Lolita’s supporters hope that she will live many years in the wild.

Image: The entrance of Miami Seaquarium. Pic by AP

Lolita won’t be released immediately. There are still hurdles to overcome.

She will travel by plane to an ocean sanctuary between Washington State and Canada, where she will learn how to catch fish in a large net. This will take her up to two years.

She will also need to strengthen her muscles. Orcas swim approximately 100 miles per day (160 km) but her tank measures 24m x 11m x 6m.

She was just 4 years old when she was captured. At that time, she was also learning how to hunt. Raynell Morris, an older member of the Lummi Indian Tribe of Washington who serves on the Friends of Toki board, said that she knows her family song. “She will remember, but it will take some time.”

Lolita will be under 24-hour care until her adjustment to her new environment. Officials said that Seaquarium caretakers are already preparing her for her journey.

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The 1960s and 1970s were deadly for a group of endangered salmon-eating orcas. They are called the “southern resident killers whales”. They spend most of their time in the waters between Washington, Canada and Washington.

Roundups resulted in a reduction of the population of around 40%. At least 13 orcas were killed during the roundup and 45 were taken to the parks.

According to the Centre for Whale Research, only 73 animals remain in the southern residence population. It is comprised of three “pods”, which are made up of three individuals. This is just two more animals that were in 1971.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PETA) have been campaigning for Lolita’s release into a controlled environment for many years. Protests are often planned along the route to the Seaquarium.

Image: Eduardo Albor (CEO of Dolphin Company) speaks during the press conference about Lolita’s future. Pic by AP

Eduardo Albor, the owner of The Dolphin Company, which runs the Miami Seaquarium said that one reason his company bought it was to help Lolita.

He said, “It has been our commitment at The Dolphin Company that the welfare of the animals is our highest priority”

“Finding a better life for Lolita was one of the motivations we bought the Miami Seaquarium.”

The relocation plan was called historic by Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County mayor.

She said, “So many people have hoped for this result for many, long years.”


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