Controversy After Killer Whale Dies After 53 Years In Captivity

Death Of Orca sparks Online Backlash

Toki at Seaquarium, Miami. Credit: Miami Seaquarium/

A killer whale named Lolita, who spent over five decades in captivity has died, largely kept in a tank measuring 80 feet by 35 feet and 20 feet deep.

Lolita, also referred to as Toki or Tokitae, died on Friday, August 18, at the Miami Seaquarium, writes NBC Miami. The cause of death is believed to be a renal condition.

Statement From Seaquarium

‘Over the last two days, Toki started exhibiting serious signs of discomfort, which her full Miami Seaquarium and Friends of Toki medical team began treating immediately and aggressively,’ the Seaquarium said in a statement. ‘Despite receiving the best possible medical care, she passed away Friday afternoon.’

The death occurred just days after officials had reported improvement in Toki’s health, as preparations were underway for her return to the Pacific. She had been consuming up to 115 pounds of fish daily and engaging in playful activities.

The Seaquarium will remain closed on Saturday following her death. Over $500,000 had been invested in improvements to Toki’s pool, including new equipment and facilities.

‘Our shared goal has been to increase transparency, create accountability, and strengthen collaboration at the Miami Seaquarium for the benefit of the animals in their care,’ said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. ‘We were proud of the immense progress made over the last 12 months, from the successful transfer of ownership of the Miami Seaquarium to The Dolphin Company, the unprecedented collaboration with the Friends of Toki, and the most recent announcement of her relocation to the wild. Our collective wish was to see Toki in her native waters and we are heartbroken to learn of this sudden loss.’

In March, the Seaquarium had revealed plans to move Toki to a sanctuary in Washington State within two years. Captured in 1970 at the age of four, the now 7,000-pound orca was one of the oldest in captivity.

Orcas Death Provokes Online Backlash

Despite Puget Sound orcas being listed as endangered since 2005, captive animals like Toki were excluded from protection. Her death sparked protests, with demonstrators holding signs and chanting outside the Seaquarium.

For years, activists have argued for Toki return to her native pod, criticising the size of her pool at the Seaquarium. The park, however, maintained that the habitat met legal requirements: ‘Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story and especially to the Lummi nation that considered her family,’ the Seaquarium’s statement read. ‘Those who have had the privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit.’

However, news has sparked a backlash on social media. One woman spoke for many by posting: ‘She should not have been in that tiny tank for five decades purely for you to make money from her. Now she will never get to taste freedom again. Heartbreaking.’

One man simple said:  ‘She’s finally free! From the hell she lived for decades.’

According to figures from, as of June 26 this year, there were at least 53 orcas held in captivity, with 24 of them reportedly captured in the wild. The average age of female orcas in the wild is around 46 years, but it is not unknown for them to reach 80-90 years.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.