What is the lifespan of orca whales? Miami Seaquarium’s Lolita dies after 53 years in captivity

Miami Seaquarium announced that its orca whale, Lolita, who was kept in captivity with them for over five decades, died on Friday, August 19, 2023, at the age of 57. Officials were preparing to return her to her home waters in the Pacific Ocean at the time of her death.

In their statement, the Miami Seaquarium explained that Lolita, also known as Tokitae’s health had deteriorated over the last two days and was “exhibiting serious signs of discomfort.” They added:

“Despite receiving the best possible medical care, she passed away Friday afternoon from what is believed to be a renal condition.”

Orcas are also called killer whales, and they are the largest members of the dolphin family. According to A-Z Animals, they have a lifespan of 30–50 years in the wild and between 10–45 years in captivity.

Three days ago, Miami Seaquarium tweeted that the orca was “very stable and as good as she can be”

Lolita was one of the Miami Seaquarium’s main attractions. According to the Daily Mail, Toki was brought to the oceanarium when she was around four years old after she was captured somewhere off the coast of Washington.

The killer whale was kept confined in an 80 x 30-foot concrete tank called the Whale Bowl since the 1970s, along with her companion Hugo. Hugo died of an aneurysm due to repeated head trauma soon after, earning her the title of the world’s loneliest whale.

Several animal rights activists and non-profits have been continuously calling for her release, stating that she was subjected to cruelty. A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report listed the poor conditions in which the orca was held, including violating the government’s minimum size requirements for the tank and structural deterioration.

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At the time, the USDA demanded that she not be on public display, used for shows, or used to make a profit. Eventually, in March 2022, Lolita retired from public performance due to her declining health.

Back in 2003, the orca was the subject of a documentary titled Lolita: Slave to Entertainment, which argued for her release into the wild. In March 2023, Miami Seaquarium owner, The Dolphin Company, along with the non-profit Friends of Toki announced to move her into a (not-yet-built) ocean sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest, stating:

“Returning Lolita to her home waters does not mean releasing her into the open ocean. She is expected to remain under human care, in a protected habitat, for the rest of her life.”

The whole move was to be bankrolled by NFL team owner Jim Isray of the Indianapolis Colts. However, they added that, due to logistical challenges, the resettlement would take place in mid-2025. Several experts and activists argued that she be transported immediately rather than waiting for a utopian sanctuary to be built.

Activist Phil Demers told New Times:

“The longer we wait for perfection, the likelier it becomes that she is going to die.”

On August 15, in addition to giving the orca’s health update, Miami Seaquarium said “Great milestones” had been achieved since the announcement. Lolita was “eating well and having encouraging interactions with her caretakers.”

No other comments were released at the time of writing this article.

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