After nearly five decades in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium, the Lolita orca can finally return to the Pacific to live out the rest of its days.
Thursday during a news conference at the Miami Seaquarium announced its plans To move the nearly 5,000-pound killer whale — initially called Tokiidae or Toki — back to its original home in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.
After years of animal rights activists pushing to release Lolita from the Miami Aquarium, officials announced their plans for a “return process. [Lolita] to her home water.”
Florida nonprofit Miami Seaquarium hosted the news conference in part Friends of Lolita and Jim Irsay, philanthropist and owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.
“It’s a very special day,” Dolphin CEO Eduardo Albor said during a news conference. “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in a year when actions take the place of words.”
In addition to receiving financial support from Irsay, Seaquarium made a deal with Lolita’s friends to relocate the orca.
“I’m excited to be a part of Lolita’s journey,” Irsay said. “I’ve loved whales since I was a little kid because I love whales [of] Their power, their majesty and how gentle they are.”
Irsay told reporters that the cost of relocating Lolita could be a “huge amount,” as officials have not released a specific budget or figure tied to his transfer. For now, the plan for Lolita is to create a marine sanctuary with netting for her, where she will receive constant care from trainers.
“She’s lived this long to have this opportunity, and my only mission … is to help free this whale,” Irsay said.
Lolita was captured nearly 50 years ago at age 4 off the Pacific coast near Seattle. The orca, believed to be 57 years old, was able to retire from exhibition performances last spring under an agreement with federal regulators.
She is the oldest orca currently in captivity.
Over the past decade, animal rights groups have staged demonstrations and petitions cases Seeks to improve Lolita’s situation in the Seaquarium. There are also members of the Lummi Nation in Seattle He threatened to file a case For her release.
NPR’s Ari Daniel contributed to this report.