Trainers Accuse Theme Park of Killing Orca, Updates Given

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Tokitae performing as Lolita at Miami Seaquarium

Credit: Leonardo DaSilva via Flickr

A popular theme park has been accused of killing its prized orca by her former trainers.

Keeping killer whales in captivity has been a controversial topic for years – especially since the release of Blackfish (2013). Focusing on the life of Tilikum, the orca involved in three of the four fatal attacks on humans, the documentary sparked a decline in attendance for SeaWorld (Tilikum’s home) and other marine parks across the globe.

A few Orca Whales perform tricks and stunts during a show at SeaWorld as Guests look on from the stands.
Credit: SeaWorld

Related: SeaWorld Pushed to Release Killer Whale Trapped in “Tiny” Tank

However, over ten years after its release, killer whales remain in captivity at several destinations. While SeaWorld may have ceased its orca breeding program at SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego, and SeaWorld San Antonio and cut shows where orcas are forced to perform, it still owns 18 orcas across all three American parks.

Orcas can also still be found at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in China, Loro Parque in the Canary Islands, and Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium in Japan.

An orca performs at Loro Parque
Credit: Loro Parque

In the United States, Miami Seaquarium was the last remaining park other than SeaWorld to house its own orca. Lolita – also known by her indigenous name, Tokitae – moved to the park in 1970 after being captured in the Pacific Northwest at around three years old. Although she originally shared a tank (dubbed “The Whale Bowl”) with an orca named Hugo, he passed away in 1980 due to injuries sustained on the glass wall.

Earlier this year, Miami Seaquarium announced that it had signed a legally binding agreement with the non-profit organization Friends of Toki to release Lolita back into the Salish Sea. Sadly, this plan never came to fruition as Lolita passed away after 53 years at the park on August 18.

Tokitae pokes her head out of the water
Credit: Miami Seaquarium

Related: OSHA Reports Woman Bit By Orca at SeaWorld Orlando

As per the park’s announcement, Lolita’s death was due to suspected renal failure. However, some of her former trainers have since questioned the real cause – going so far as to accuse the park of neglecting Lolita in her later years.

“We’ve been saying for a long time they’re going to kill her at Seaquarium,” Dr. Jenna Wallace – a former vet at Miami Seaquarium – told the Miami Herald. “We’ve been fighting so hard to get her the best treatment and get her out of there, but nobody listened. It shouldn’t have ended like this. She deserved better.”

Wallace suspects that Lolita was suffering from dehydration after her diet was reduced two years ago. Lolita was retired in 2022 after suffering from an extensive bout of pneumonia.

Lolita pokes her head out of the water
Credit: Truth4Toki

Tom Reidarson, Lolita’s attending veterinarian at the time of her death, stated that her health had been improving until the sudden kidney problems that began 72 hours before her passing.

He also said that “it’s best to see what the evidence from the necropsy tells us” and insisted that these accusations are “unfair,” saying, “I am deeply saddened by the loss of Toki. Now is not the time to throw stones.”

Miami Seaquarium also insists that Lolita’s diet was “rich in nutrients and appropriate for her appetite,” telling the Miami Herald that her health was assessed by “the world’s foremost experts in marine mammal care” who were independent of the park.

Animal rights activists rejoiced when Lolita’s return to the wild was announced in March. However, some of her former trainers – who banded together to form the group Truth4Toki – argued that the move was too dangerous considering Lolita’s age, health, and amount of time spent in captivity. They instead suggested that Lolita be relocated to SeaWorld Orlando, where she could spend her final years in a larger, more sophisticated killer whale facility.

Do you think captive killer whales should be returned to the wild? Let us know in the comments!

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