THE tragic story of killer whale performer Lolita might finally have a happy end as plans are in place to set her free after half a century in a concrete tank.
The depressed orca, dubbed “the world’s loneliest”, has been imprisoned in the Miami Seaquarium for over 50 years, but her longstanding campaigners have now secured her return to the Pacific Ocean and to her ageing mother.
The killer whale, whose real name is Tokitae, was taken from her mother aged 4 and used as the aquarium’s star attraction for decades before falling ill.
Activists have long been campaigning for her release from Seaquarium, which has been referred to as an “abusement park”.
Now, both her captors and campaigners have formed an unlikely alliance to reunite the lonely orca with the waters of the Pacific Northwest, where her mother is believed to still roam.
The aquarium agreed to no longer include her in shows last year due to an agreement with the US government.
It followed a damning federal report in 2021 that accused the parlk of serious marine mammal violations and resulted into new ownership.
Campaigners had for years claimed that she is far too big for the miniature tank that she lives in – which is only 20ft deep and just 35ft wide.
Animal rights group PETA has said that Lolita’s life there has been “a living nightmare” and have begged for her not to suffer the fate of her partner, Hugo, who died from hitting his head repeatedly against the tank walls.
Officials have said that the plan is already in motion to begin her release operation and Seaquarium are preparing for her journey.
“I’m excited to be a part of Lolita’s journey to freedom,” millionaire philanthropist Jim Irsay told AP.
“I know Lolita wants to get to free waters.”
Irsay who owns the Indianopolis Colts is helping to bankroll the operation, which is set to cost £16million.
“I know she wants to go home and I know she has the fire within her and the determination… this is an incredible story,” he said.
Irsay made the announcement on his twitter stating: “Dinner before today’s Lolita press conference in Miami Beach! Key players in the massive plan to finally FREE this 8000 lb killer whale, Lolita!!…Stay tuned as this dream unfolds in real time.”
The complex operation will involve flying the 2268kg whale 3000 miles to Washington state, where she will be taught how to be wild once more in an ocean sanctuary.
This will entail teaching her to catch fish again and build up her muscles for swimming before being released in Puget Sound, where she was captured back in 1970.
However, some campaigners fear that after so long spent in captivity that she may no longer be equipped to survive in the wild.
“She’s persevered the difficulties that we humans forced on her. She lived through her capture and the death of family members and living in this small tank for so many years,” Pritam Singh, the founder of the advocacy group Friends of Lolita told The Times.
Nonetheless, Tokitae, whose show name is Lolita, surprised researchers with her resilience.
“When you see her, her life force brings you to tears,” Singh added.
Lolita was seized during a gruesome roundup of over 80 orcas, where some struggled to death to free themselves.
The evidence of the massacre was hidden and 47 were sold into captivity around the world – Lolita is said to be the only surviving whale.
However, scientists believe that Lolita’s mother, who is now over 90-years-old, is still swimming with the same pod within the endangered population.
This has given her advocates some hope that she will be able to survive out in the big blue.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has called the plan momentous as “so many have worked, prayed, hoped for this for many, many years.”