Make your home page

Orca whale that Colts owner Irsay helped has died

Orca whale that Colts owner Irsay helped has died

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (WISH) — A killer orca whale that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was helping return to waters along West Coast died on Friday afternoon, the Miami Seaquarium announced.

The whale called Lolita — aka her Native American name of Tokitae, or “Toki” — had been in captivity for decades, officials said, when they announced in March that Irsay had given a “generous contribution” to relocate the animal to a sea cove.

Lolita was believed to be at least 57 years old, the oldest killer whale living in captivity.

On Tuesday, the Seaquarium gave an update on social media about Lolita’s condition. The post cited the whale’s good appetite for her age, and progress in a veterinary team’s “medical preventative program” needed to made the trip back toward the Pacific Ocean.

But, on Friday, the Seaquarium posted that the whale began “exhibiting series signs of discomfort” over the past two days, which led to medical care being administered before Lolita’s death from what is believe to be a kidney problem.

“Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story and especially to the Lummi nation that considered her family. Those who have had the privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit,” the Seaquarium posted Friday afternoon.

Irsay, in a social media post Friday night, wrote, “I am heartbroken that Toki has left us. Her story captured my heart, just as it did millions of others. I was honored to be part of the team working to return her to her indigenous home, and I take solace in knowing that we significantly improved her living conditions this past year. Her spirit and grace have touched so many. Rest in peace, dear Toki.”

The Seaquarium in February had approved a “binding agreement” with Friends of Lolita, a nonprofit co-founded by environmentalist Pritam Singh, to free the whale. The deal called for bringing in water to transport her, finding a plane large enough to carry her safely, and getting the equipment to move the whale on and off an aircraft.

When Irsay announced his effort to help fund the deal, he said, “This hasn’t been done much. This isn’t something that happens every year (and) I’m just so blessed and excited about being part of this.”

Plans had called for moving Lolita back to the West Coast as soon as August 2024.

Lolita was caught on Aug. 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.