Lolita’s fans are blubbering.
The beloved killer whale who was set to be freed after more than 50 years in captivity in a small Miami enclosure has tragically died before she could return to the Pacific Ocean.
Lolita, who also went by the name Toki, died of what is believed to be a kidney condition on Friday after showing signs of distress over the previous couple of days, according to the Miami Seaquarium, where she was a main attraction for 53 years.
“Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story,” the Seaquarium said in a statement on social media.
“Those of us who have had the honor and privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit.”
The 21-foot, 8,000-pound orca was anticipated to be flown from Miami to her pod’s native home in Puget Sound in Washington state within the next 2 years as part of a $20 million plan backed by philanthropist and Indianapolis Colts owner, Jim Irsay.
“Her story captured my heart, just as it did millions of others. I was honored to be part of the team working to return her to her indigenous home, and I take solace in knowing that we significantly improved her living conditions this past year,” Irsay tweeted.
“Her spirit and grace have touched so many. Rest in peace, dear Toki.”
Lolita did not live an easy life.
She was taken from her pod in 1970 when she was about 4 years old.
The killer whale was bought by the Miami Seaquarium and moved to South Florida, where she performed for audiences until she officially retired last March due to health problems.
In 1980, Lolita lost her mate Hugo to a brain aneurysm he suffered after repeatedly ramming his head into his tank, according to USA Today.
Pritam Singh, who leads the organization Friends of Toki (Lolita), said Lolita was a fighter.
“She’s persevered through the difficulties that we human beings have enforced on her,” Singh told USA Today in March.
“She lived through her captivity and the death of her family, she lived through her other family dying, and she lived through being in this small tank for so many years. When you see her, her life force, it just brings you to tears.”
She was one of the oldest orcas in captivity at the time of her death.