Jim Irsay helping whale return home
MIAMI (WFOR) — Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, officials with the Miami Seaquarium and other dignitaries on Thursday officially announced a deal to send Lolita, a killer orca whale who has been in captivity for at least five decades, back to her “home waters.”
During a mid-morning news conference, Cava said the overall crux of the deal hinged on the care of Lolita, a 57-year-old whale who is also known by her Native American name of Tokitae, or “Toki.”
“To all of you who care, we want to thank you for your care and concern of Loki,” Cava said. “The most important thing is Toki’s long-term wellbeing, and together, guided by the experts, we will continue to do what’s best for her.”
Under the terms of the deal, the Seaquarium has approved a “binding agreement” with Friends of Lolita, a non-profit group co-founded by environmentalist Pritam Singh, to free the whale.
Edward Albor, chairman of The Dolphin Company, which manages the Miami attraction, said in a written statement that officials hope the relocation will occur in the next 18 to 24 months.
The deal to release the whale is being underwritten by a “generous contribution” from Jim Irsay, owner and CEO of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, officials said.
Officials still have to determine the details of how and when they transport the 5,000 pound killer whale to waters off the coast of the U.S. West Coast.
Those details will include the water to transport her, a plane large enough to carry her safely as well as the equipment needed to get the whale on and off the aircraft.
“This hasn’t been done much,” Irsay said during the news conference. “This isn’t something that happens every year (and) I’m just so blessed and excited about being part of this.”
Lolita has has been receiving round-the-clock care at the Seaquarium, following a health concern from late last year.
In March 2022, the USDA granted MS Leisure Company Inc., owner of the Miami Seaquarium, an exhibitor’s license under the condition it no longer displays Lolita and Lii, a white-sided dolphin. Her performances were stopped and her tank was closed to the public.
Lolita is believed to be at least 57 years old, making her the oldest killer whale living in captivity.
She was caught on August 8, 1970, in Penn Cove, Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington when she was about 4 years old. She was later sold to the Miami Seaquarium. When she first arrived, she lived alongside another orca named Hugo for about 10 years, but he died in 1980.
For years, animal rights groups have wanted Lolita moved to “a protected cove sea pen,” where she can be transitioned to the ocean.
“Miami, FL – March 30, 2023 – The Miami Seaquarium, which recently came under the management of The Dolphin Company, the most experienced company with marine mammals in the world, has entered into a formal and binding agreement with Friends of Lolita, a non-profit organization co-founded by environmentalist Pritam Singh, to bring to life the dream of returning Lolita to an ocean sanctuary. This extraordinary collaboration has the life-transforming possibility to change Lolita’s future thanks also to a generous contribution from philanthropist Jim Irsay, the owner & CEO of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.
“Eduardo Albor, CEO of The Dolphin Company; Pritam Singh, environmentalist, philanthropist and co-founder of Friends of Lolita; and Jim Irsay will work together to make the relocation a reality.
“‘It has always been our commitment at The Dolphin Company that we place the highest priority on the well-being of animals, above all else,’ said Mr. Albor, CEO of The Dolphin Company. Finding a better future for Lolita is one of the reasons that motivated us to acquire the Miami Seaquarium. With the help of Jim Irsay and Pritam Singh, we are bringing that dream, the dream of returning Lolita to her home waters, closer than ever.’
“‘I am excited to see that, regardless of different positions, we can make this extraordinary agreement happen based on mutual respect and confidence between all parties,’ added Mr. Albor. ‘Working with the same objective, many other organizations can achieve great things when both parties focus on common goals, rather than different views, and make feasible something that before was a hopeless dream by accepting each other as allies. We have the same goal and now the world will see, amazing things are possible when we listen and work together.’
“‘The story of Lolita the orca has been near and dear to my heart. I am proud—-and enthusiastic—-to play a role in finally returning Lolita to her native Pacific Northwest,’ said Jim Irsay, Owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts.
“‘It is a sacred privilege to share in the mission of caring for and bringing home Lolita, our beloved one,’ said Pritam Singh, Co-Founder of Friends of Lolita. ‘My thanks to all the team, particularly Eduardo Albor, Jim Irsay and Raynell Morris, for all their efforts and support.’
The impact of this first-ever, formal and binding agreement demonstrates that different organizations, that in the past might be working against each other, can successfully work together, proving that maintaining strong ethics, and respect for the animals under their care, means a better outcome for every animal.
“’We certainly hope that animal welfare leaders around the world can find common ground as we have here in the case of Lolita,’ added Mr. Albor.
“We are working toward and hope the relocation will be possible in the next 18 to 24 months. At present, Lolita receives round-the-clock care by a team of dedicated, highly-skilled, medical, nutrition and behavior experts. Her most recent independent health and welfare assessment completed by Dr. Tom Reidarson, DVM DACZM, Dr. James McBain, DVM retired and Dr. Stephanie Norman, DVM, Ph-D indicated that her energy, appetite and engagement in daily activities is becoming reasonably stable.
“The leadership of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, since the transfer of ownership of Miami Seaquarium, has been instrumental in bringing our worlds together,’ added Mr. Albor. “With the support of all parties, the continued health of Lolita and approvals from the appropriate authorities, we are all committed to giving this beautiful orca a new home and a peaceful future.’”