- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2023

The world’s second-oldest captive orca, Lolita, will be going cross-country and returning to her home waters in the Pacific Northwest with the help of Jim Irsay, owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.

The move was announced Thursday at a press conference that included the Dolphin Co., operator of the Miami Seaquarium where Lolita has lived for over 50 years, the nonprofit Friends of Toki, Miami-Dade County officials and Mr. Irsay.

Lolita, also known as Tokitae or Toki, was born in 1966 and brought to the Miami Seaquarium in 1970. Captured with six other orcas, Lolita is the only one of the seven still living.

Only Corky II, a fellow female orca born in 1965 and living at San Diego’s SeaWorld since 1987, is older among captive killer whales.

Lolita has not performed at the Seaquarium since March 2022, when she came down with a bacterial infection that nearly took her life. Since then, she has stayed in her 80-foot-long, 35-foot-wide tank.

Whereas previous owners of the Seaquarium opposed any move of Lolita, Dolphin Co. CEO Eduardo Albor said in December that he was “100% committed” to moving Lolita back to the Pacific Northwest. 

Mr. Albor’s daughter had urged him upon first visiting the facility to release Lolita if he ever acquired the Seaquarium.

Friends of Toki and the Dolphin Co. entered into a binding agreement to bring the orca from the Seaquarium to a sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest. Federal regulatory approval would be required for the plan, including from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The agreement, according to a post on the Seaquarium’s Instagram page, is the first such deal between a private company that keeps captive marine mammals and a nonprofit animal welfare organization.

Speaking at the press conference, Mr. Irsay reiterated his desire to do whatever it takes to let Lolita go home, calling the creature the “Cal Ripken Jr. of whales,” in terms of longevity and tenacity, according to the Miami Herald.

“Without a doubt, I know Lolita wants to get to free waters. My only mission is to help this whale get free. She wants to go home,” Mr. Irsay said, according to WPLG, a Miami ABC affiliate.

Mr. Irsay will help provide the $15 million to $20 million needed for the move, which could take 18 to 24 months involving preparations and trip.

• Brad Matthews can be reached at bmatthews@washingtontimes.com.

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