Lolita the killer whale is getting better, but she’s not completely recovered from an illness that essentially forced her retirement from performing at Miami Seaquarium.
That’s the assessment from two world-renowned veterinarians who examined the Seaquarium’s orca recently.
The park’s new owners, The Dolphin Company, did something Miami-Dade County’s mayor and whale activists have been demanding for months, which is to allow independent experts to examine Lolita — also known as Toki — because she had been sick for months.
They released their assessment today, and according to Patrick Pearson, the Seaquarium’s general manager, the report is "very positive."
"It’s saying that she is getting great care here and she will continue to get great care and we’ll continue to be transparent about those reports," said Pearson. "Those reports should happen on an ongoing basis, maybe even monthly."
“But from a veterinarian standpoint, you don’t say she’s stable until she maintains that health level of blood chemistry without medication," said Charles Vinick, a board member of the newly-formed group, Friends of Lolita. "That’s the next step."
Friends of Lolita collaborated with the county and the Seaquarium to bring in the outside veterinarians.
“We actually invited the vets so they are completely independent and we can assure everyone of that and we do,” said Vinick, who also runs the non-profit Whale Sanctuary Project, which seeks to establish a habitat in which whales in captivity can be moved.
His group acknowledges that Toki is held in the smallest enclosure of any orca in captivity, and she’s lived there for five decades.
“Well ideally and aspirationally, we would like to see her returned to the Salish Sea," Vinick said. "But every decision about that has to be made with her health first, foremost, and in many respects, the only consideration."
Pearson explained that the average span of life of an orca is about 46 years for a female in the wild, so Toki — who he called "geriatric" — has outlived them at 57.
“She has survived in ways most other captive whales never have, so she is one tough, strong whale and it’s that that we have to be looking at as we look at what’s next,” said Vinick, inferring that she’s strong enough to be returned to the wild one day.
In the meantime, will the Seaquarium expand Toki’s pool?
“Well I can’t really address that right now,” Pearson said. “Because the veterinarians that have examined her exhibit right now say it’s adequate and she seems to be doing very well."
Pearson says her exhibit is all she’s ever known and that moving might be traumatic for her.
While Toki is 57, her mother is thought to be in her 80s and still alive in the waters off Washington state.
That gives hope to Friends of Lolita that maybe one day, she can be reunited with her pod in the wild.