Skip to main content

Endangered B.C. orca expected to be released from captivity in Miami


A decades-long fight to free a southern resident killer whale from captivity in the U.S. will soon have a happy ending.

Lolita, also known as Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut by the Lummi Nation in Washington state, is currently living at the Miami Seaquarium.

She's now 57, and was captured in the waters off the B.C. coast when she was four.

"She would've come from over there," said Eric Pittman, director of the Canadian Orca Recue Society, while pointing at the Salish Sea.

She's one of many southern residents who were scooped up from the Salish Sea in the 1970s.

On Thursday, the Miami Seaquarium, which recently came under new management, announced plans for her release.

The aquarium will work with non-profit group Friends of Lolita to transfer the orca back to B.C. waters in the next 18 to 24 months.

The relocation is partly thanks to a large donation by Jim Irsay, the owner and CEO of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.

"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 Irsay in a statement Thursday.


Many groups have been advocating for Lolita to be freed for decades.

The Sacred Lands Conservancy has been pushing the aquarium's new operator to make it happen.

"The little tank she's in right now is so shallow, she can never get out of the sun," said Tahmas, president of the Sacred Lands Conservancy in Bellingham, Wash.

To the aquarium's credit, Tahmas says it is the first facility to agree to work with the conservancy.

"Bringing our sister back home and putting her back in the Salish Sea, that’s the first step in apologizing to the southern residents, that we have allowed this to happen to you," said Tahmas.

The hope is to create a large enclosed sanctuary somewhere in the waters off Vancouver Island for Sk'aliCh'elh-tenau, then put her on a plane and fly her to B.C. from Miami.

"She will be able to swim again at full speed. She will be able to maneuver. She will be able to go deep enough to where the sun is not hitting her," said Tahmas.

It's what advocates like Pittman have wanted for the marine mammal for decades.

"As we evolve, we develop more empathy for the creatures and the planet around us," he said. "And I think we have to learn from that."

The Miami Seaquarium says the orca gets "round-the-clock care" by a range of experts, including medical, nutritional and behavioural staff, and that a recent independent health assessment found that her condition "is becoming reasonably stable."

"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," said Eduardo Albor, CEO of The Dolphin Company, which operates the aquarium. Top Stories

Ontario MPP removed from PC caucus over 'serious lapses in judgment'

Premier Doug Ford has removed a member of his caucus due to what he’s describing as 'serious lapses in judgment.' In a statement released Friday morning, the premier’s office said MPP Goldie Ghamari had been removed from the Progressive Conservative caucus 'effective immediately.'

Stay Connected