Free Lolita: historic deal reached to return Miami Seaquarium's iconic killer whale to the ocean

A campaign supported by numerous celebrities, with the help of one particular philanthropist, was fundamental in the process leading up to the big announcement.

"The Miami Seaquarium has entered into a formal and binding agreement to bring to life the dream of returning Lolita to an ocean sanctuary." On Thursday, the aquarium along with the non-profit organization Friends of Lolita released a statement announcing a plan to release the orca in two years.

Lolita was captured in 1970 when she was four years old. From then and up until 2021, she performed shows for park visitors, but a campaign led by animal rights organizations managed to cancel the shows, according to several media reports. Some of the slogans used were that Lolita lived in "the smallest orca tank in the world" and that she was the "the world's loneliest orca," as William Neal titled in his book about the whale.

The animal's fame led to visits from celebrities such as Colombian singer Shakira and Spanish soccer player Gerard Piqué.

Photograph of singer Shakira and ex-footballer Piqué with orca Lolita.
(Cordon Press)

In addition to visits to the aquarium to see Lolita, several celebrities joined the calls for her release. One of them is Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who worked with the organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to free Lolita.

In addition to traveling to Miami to ask the aquarium's owners to release the animal, Del Castillo recorded a video explaining Lolita's story and encouraging tourists to stop attending aquariums like the one housing the orca.

Caso Cerrado host Ana María Polo also participated in a recording for PETA. "My name is Lolita, I am an orca. I've been held captive for more than 50 years at the Miami Aquarium, but it's not a home, it's a prison," said Dr. Polo, speaking on behalf of the orca to tell her story.

Mexican singer Paulina Rubio wrote a letter to the CEO of the water park's parent company asking for Lolita to be released, following a report that she was ill.

(Peta Latino)

Other well-known artists participated in the efforts to free Lolita, such as Ron Howard, Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Elton John, 50 Cent, Lindsay Lohan and Placido Domingo, according to ABC News.

The philanthropist behind the plan

Owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts NFL team, Jim Irsay, was instrumental in organizing the plan. Irsay announced the news of the deal on his Twitter account, where he also confirmed that documentary filmmaker Ryan White would record all the steps of the release. "Lolita the orca's story has touched my heart. I am proud and excited to finally see her in her native Pacific Northwest," the entrepreneur said when the deal was announced.