Skip to main content

Lolita: Miami's performing prisoner for 39 years and counting


Captivating, but still captive - Lolita - photo courtesy of Shelby Proie (

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated" - Mahatma Gandhi

A Sad Situation

The Miami Seaquarium has kept a prisoner in a watery cell for nearly 40 years, longer than Nelson Mandela's infamous stay on Robben Island.  Her name is Lolita. 

Her crime: profitability.

Lolita's capture - photo courtesy of Shelby Proie (

In 1970, a team of individuals using planes, speedboats and explosives terrorized and captured the Southern Resident orca community in Puget Sound for display in marine parks.  Ripped from her family and her natural environment, Lolita, originally named Tokitae, was taken to Miami, FL where she continues to languish nearly four decades later as an entertainment slave.  This beautiful orca, forced to perfom one to two shows daily, spends the other twenty-three hours each day in a cramped, rusty tank that is illegal according to the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) standards for size requirements.  Lolita is approximately 22 feet long and 6,000 pounds. Her tank is 20 feet deep at the deepest point and 35 feet across.  It is, in essence, little more than a bathtub.  Lolita is allowed only one toy, as she has a history of swallowing them out of boredom.  She has also been known to chew the cement off the corners of her tank, most likely in a display of the stereotypical behavior exhibited by animals and mammals held captive in psychologically stressful conditions.

Lolita in her rusty tank - photo courtesy of Shelby Proie (

According to, a website designed to raise awareness about Lolita's plight and to work for her release, "The Miami Seaquarium is often considered to be one of the most dilapidated marine parks in the world.  It is in need of substantial repairs, and per the Marine Mammal Inventory Report, has a substantial death rate for their marine mammals."  Shelby Proie, an activist who has worked tirelessly to win Lolita's freedom by organizing demonstrations (see below), interviewing on CNN and petitioning various animal welfare organizations, states, "They are also trying to breed the pacific white sided dolphins [with whom Lolita shares her tiny enclosure] so within a year they will have 6 (if all the births happen).  It seems they are trying to phase Lolita out so they don't have an empty tank."


Leaks, rust and electrical hazards - Miami Seaquarium - photos courtesy of Shelby Proie (

On their website, the Orca Network clearly states its goals for their Lolita Come Home Project:

"The primary goal of the Lolita Come Home Project is to move Lolita from her present location at Miami Seaquarium to a rehabilitation/retirement facility in an ocean water seapen in Washington State, where she can retire from show business while still receiving the care of humans for her health and safety.

A secondary goal is to reacclimatize Lolita to her native habitat with open water "walks", so she can return to a healthy physical condition and metabolic strength, similar to that of her free-ranging family members.

A third goal of this project is to facilitate Lolita's reintroduction to her family pod members. This will be done acoustically first, visually second, and socially last. It will be up to Lolita to decide whether she wishes to remain in the social company of her family or return to human care."

Lolita's story has been featured in Newsweek, on CNN , in newspapers and in a one-hour documentary film entitled Lolita: Slave to Entertainment

How YOU Can Help

Ms. Proie, in conjunction with the Orca Network, holds demonstrations outside the Miami Seaquarium at 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne, FL 33149 the last Saturday of each month.   There will be a demonstration this Saturday, May 30, from 12 noon until 2pm.  Details  and contact information can be found here and there is no limit to the number of people who can attend.

Demo - photo courtesy of Shelby Proie (

Please visit the websites linked above so you can learn ways to help Lolita find freedom.

Lolita on the day of her capture - photo courtesy of Shelby Proie (


  • Sharon Pet Rescue Examiner 5 years ago

    How very sad for this beautiful mammal. It's good to know that there are options for Lolita's future if she is set free. I hope her supporters do not give up. Thanks for bringing her plight to examiner readers.

  • meccarose 5 years ago

    I hope Lolita can be freed in the near future. Hasn't the Seaquarium made enough money off her? Very sad!

  • M. Katz 5 years ago

    Heartwrenching article Keith and thank-you. It would be a nice symbolism for all the animals if Lolita could be freed from her human enslavers. We need to abolish slavery; whether it involves a human of another color, a child in the Ivory Coast of Africa for cheap cocoa, or whether it be a non-human animal. What is with the human race? It's time for CHANGE.

  • iris lambka 5 years ago

    Most inhumane to not give this beautiful animal her freedom She is long overdue to return to her real home and life FREEDOM FOLKS FREE this girl NOW

  • Michelle-Miami, FL 5 years ago

    It's heartwrenching to know she has been captive as long as I've been alive. Growing up here and visiting the Seaquarium often, it just becomes routine and you don't think about what it does to the animals. I've seen her grow over the years and watched how the show has changed because of her size. The wonderful tricks done before are non-existant because of her size. That tank can hardly hold her, let alone the 3 Pacific White Dolphins that do the show with her. I know it's probably impossible but isn't there a way to shut down the Seaquarium until it meets all required standards? Isn't there a larger location they can be at? If it's PROFITS they need, then maybe they should consider becoming a theme park as well so they can draw in the tourists. This way, these animals can have the state of the art facility they deserve while in our care. It never seems to amaze me, we are HUMAN but yet we are the least HUMANE.

  • Friend of Lolita 5 years ago

    Excellent article!

  • Friend of Lolita 5 years ago

    excellent article

  • Niki G. 5 years ago

    What a great, informational article! Terrific story! I hope Lolita can be brought back to her family some day soon. It's really unfair to keep her cooped up in that tiny concrete fish bowl for so long! Inhumane and cruel! She should be confiscated by the state of Florida! SAVE LOLITA!

    I look forward to follow-up articles on Lolita's story!

  • Orca Spirit Dancer 5 years ago

    As a resident and Marine Naturalist living in the San Juan Islands where Lolita is from, I just hope and pray that justice for Lolita is done and that she be given the chance to be reunited with her family. The sheer greed and arrogance of the Seaquarium Owner continues to appall me. Thanks for writing this article.

    Raven Sky
    Marine Naturalist
    Orcas Island

  • Gwen W. 5 years ago

    A wonderful article about Lolita's plight. Hopefully more and more people will see the cruelty in keeping this beautiful mammal from her family, forced to perform until she dies.
    I look forward to reading more articles about Lolita in the future! ^^

  • Keith - Boca Raton Animal Rights Examiner 5 years ago

    Thank you all for your supportive comments! Please inform others so that more positive energy will be directed toward helping Lolita!

  • iris lambka 4 years ago

    it is time she is set FREE enough is enough CRUEL CRUEL

  • Carole May 4 years ago

    For more, read the series, "An Orca named Lolita".