Skip to content

The Truth about Lolita…?

March 8, 2011

Shelby Proie of with Lolita

It came to the attention of longtime Lolita advocate, Shelby Proie of, through an anonymous tip, March 4th 2011, at about 10 am., that Lolita (better known as Toki/Tokitae to her followers) has not been performing in the shows the past week, and is not scheduled to perform again in the near future.  At least, not in the near future is what you get when you call or go to the Miami Seaquarium (MSQ), as they typically tell you, “Call back tomorrow”. 

However, hundreds if not thousands of her adoring fans lit up the lines at MSQ when the story broke of her non-performance wanting to know, “Is Lolita doing shows?” And if not, “How is she?” and “When will she be back?” Quite unexpectedly, and not long after people started calling on Friday, news reports and press releases came out saying, “Lolita is down with a tooth infection“, or “Lolita the Killer Whale show is shelved due to a toothache.” However, that is not what everyone was being told by Miami Seaquarium staff.  Some people are told she has a tooth infection, while others are told, they are doing maintenance on her pool.  Such is the case with an Earthrace Conservation-Miami chapter ECO-warrior who went to the gate Friday afternoon and was told, “They are working on her tank.” – even after the press releases were sent out pointing to her ailment.

Even yesterday, Monday March 7th, a patron was told “They are working on her tank.”
She asked three different employees what was going on with Lolita.
These were the 3 different responses:
– She is not well and therefore resting.
– She is being treated for a tooth infection.
– Maintenance is being done on the tank.
“The last statement was particularly interesting since it came from the vendor at the entrance of the Stadium (the man selling drinks and ice cream). I told the man I heard Lolita was sick – but he said he hadn’t heard that (and apparently meant it). Clearly, Seaquarium employees have always been incredibly unknowledgable about any situation there but I thought it was interesting to hear from the man who stands right next to the Stadium. He may have been instructed to say so but that would be very inconsistent communication on the
Seaquarium’s end.

“I also managed to speak to someone at the Manatee pool who emphasized that they are doing everything in their power to preserve a tooth (the ailing one I presume). Technically speaking the tooth should be removed, according to the source, but at this stage the Seaquarium wishes to solve the problem through antibiotics only, as opposed to removing it. When asking if this was “life-threatening”, no one was able to answer.”

So what IS the truth about Lolita? 

Considering her work history, 2 or 3 show per day for 40+ years, MSQ says Toki has had a recurring tooth issue since 1994. Yet, there is no record of her not performing in shows in recent history, and most certainly not for a one week period. Did they think that telling the world she has a tooth infection that it would bring comfort to the masses knowing what we know about teeth infections in Killer Whales and how deadly they are to them?

You can see recent photos of Loilita’s teeth below~ courtesy of Chris Lagergren.  Note: Focus in on photo #4, her upper left tooth, gums and the gash on her rostrum. 


And what about this tank maintenance/repairs story? She has been in the same barren/illegal tank for 40 plus years, so undoubtedly they have learned how to clean/repair it without giving her a one week hiatus.  And, if they need to do repairs on her tank, why are some staff members telling people she has a toothache, and others are saying another thing? One can only assume they not receive the memo about her illness, and this is quite alarming to those of us that care about her.  

~ “From my experience, this is a prime example of the marine park industry’s typical desire to keep the public in dark regarding orca care, and what goes on behind closed doors. It’s shameful.” ~ Former whale trainer, Carol Ray.

For starters, Friday afternoon and evening, several of her fans and retirement advocates went to MSQ to find out what was going on and to hold a candle vigil for her. By 9 pm EST they could see all the light to her stadium were on, as they were at midnight.   Something that is not normal for MSQ and Lolita’s stadium.  When approached by security earlier in the evening, they were told “The lights are on due to her toothache and having 24/7 monitoring of her condition; as well there would be a vet to come check on her first thing in the morning.” Quite startling information knowing she is ill and that are there not and qualified marine mammal veterinarians on duty 24/7.


On Saturday, late morning, several demonstrators went back to SQ for an impromptu rally as well as to get answers.  Everyone is being told a different story depending who they talk with.  With people from around the world and as far as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Spain, Turkey and Italy calling in concerned, they are answering some verbally or transferring you to a recording saying, “The Whale show is currently closed. Lolita is fine, she has a toothache and is being treated with antibiotics”.  However, many caring people who politely ask how she is are being hung up on.  And if you post a question on their FaceBook page kindly asking about her, you are immediately deleted and blocked. 

Helicopter Landing at Miami Seaquarium, March 6, 2011~ photo courtesy Chris Lagergren

Sunday outside MSQ, several eye-witnesses reported a helicopter landing near her stadium around 2 pm, and men running out with backpacks towards her stadium.  In all the years that people have lived and worked near the aquarium, none of them have ever seen a helicopter land there.  When literally hundreds of concerned citizens started contacting SQ and several media outlets to get answers, they said, “No helicopter landed there.  It is just a rumor.” However, there are photos dispelling the media’s said rumor.

Which brings us to another question; why aren’t the media outlets doing this story? After all, she is an icon of the city she’s been held captive in for 40 years going now.  According to a 25 second story from Channel 7 news Sunday evening, MSQ is saying, “She is eating normally and being treated with antibiotics.” But which tooth are we talking about exactly? People want to know; what precisely were the circumstances that made them aware she had said “toothache” anyhow? More than likely, as is typical with an orca when they are unwell, she became lethargic and stopped eating. At this time, it seems only logical that they took a blood sample and found her white cell count off the charts and started treating her immediately. But why keep her out of the shows for this long of a period of time unless she is indeed deathly ill? 

    “The evasive maneuvers taken by the MSQ to keep the public in the dark as to the true nature of Lolita’s health perfectly demonstrate the captive marine mammal industry’s willingness to lie to protect their “investment” at all costs. No news leaves everyone who cares about this whale to think the worst – Lolita is either dead or gravely ill.   It’s an unbalanced relationship between the public and the aquarium.  On the one hand, there is an entire marketing machine dedicated to creating the illusion of a “family relationship” between Lolita and the public. Yet, ironically, the MSQ has apparently turned their back on all the supporters who have loved and cared for this whale over the past 40 years and I find that to be cruel and unnecessary.  
What makes this situation particularly offensive is that that we’ve had the opportunity to return Lolita to her family for 40 years.  Yet it appears that she may die the same way she’s lived most of her life – alone in a tiny pool.   This situation is way beyond tragic and nothing the MSQ does in the future can ever make up for the way they’ve treated not only Lolita but the people who love her.” ~Former Killer Whale trainer, Samantha Berg.

What is with the secrecy from Seaquarium? “The information blackout inside the park is a story itself”, says Howard Garrett of Orca Network. And he is exactly right.  Why isn’t the media allowed access to SQ? And why are we not allowed to get live video feed – even if for only 5 minutes – from some outside marine mammal vet of her current state of activity and environment? Would it be that difficult for MSQ to grant an interview to media with head Curator Robert Rose and some of her trainers, or the marine mammal “experts” who are supposedly watching over her right now? Taking into consideration that she supposed to be on “display” to the general public and used to hundreds if not thousands of people parading in and out of her stadium a couple of times a day – 5 or 10 minutes of quietly viewing her couldn’t possibly stress her out any more. 

She’s approximately 44 years old right now and been in captivity for 40 years and 7 months, to the day.  The Mean Duration of Captivity (MDC) for captives is less than 9 years.  How is she surviving this long? In our opinion, and the opinion of several experts, it is her resilient spirit and the outpouring of love she feels from all the wonderful human beings who would like nothing more than for Miami Seaquarium and the Hertz family to take the opportunity to become heroes by retiring her after all her years of labor.

Thousands and thousands of people around the world are truly concerned for this beautiful soul who is an anomaly for survival rate of captive orcas, and who has by far earned the right to retire in peace where her family resides.  As many know, there is a well thought out plan for every step of her rehabilitation/retirement and, the site is already secured.  Perhaps this is the situation which will urge them to get her there. 

Through the help of you, the people, we are calling on you to do whatever you can to spread awareness to her plight.  Below is what you can do to help. 

– Politely call Miami Seaquarium and ask them to tell you what is going on with Lolita.  301-361-5705

– Most importantly: Call all news and newspapers asking what is going on? Ask them for information from MSQ as to Lolita’s status, and ask them to go there or do flyovers and report back what is happening.

CBS 305-591-4444,
FOX 305-795-2777,
CH 10 954-364-2500.
Miami Herald: 305-350-2111

And also; donate whatever funds you can to as well as Orca Network in support of Lolita’s retirement plan.


For an amazing look at Lolita’s family, and where she will hopefully one day return… watch this beautiful audiovisual montage “Voice of the Orcas” of K & L pods in the Haro Strait of the Pacific Northwest.

Produced by Jeffrey Ventre MD and filmed by Ken Balcomb, with Howard Garrett, Candi Emmons, and Dave Ellifrit on board. “Song of the Stars” sung by Dead Can Dance; mixed with vocalizations from A, G, J, and R clans (pods) with some transients and offshores. Photos were provided by all of the above with additional stills from Drs Astrid VanGinneken & Jeffrey Ventre. Dedicated to Katina, Taima, Tilikum, Nebron, and Lolita. Note: This footage has not previously been available to the public. Please share… and enjoy!

22 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2015 4:39 am

    Your blog was absolutely fantastic! Great deal of great information and this can be useful some or maybe the other way. Keep updating your blog, anticipating getting more detailed contents.

  2. April 10, 2015 3:36 am

    Thanks for sharing this precious information. I like your concern in the post which is very useful for me. I like your information which is very useful for me. Thanks.

  3. April 10, 2015 1:43 am

    This is great! Thanks so much for sharing your story. So much great information here!

  4. April 16, 2012 2:32 am

    Is there an update to this story its been a year now, I’m just reading it.

  5. morna permalink
    March 17, 2011 6:18 am

    i cannot believe what such amazing, family orientated and social animals are put through, to earn bucks for some people. its time to retire lolita, though it may be to late for her.

  6. Rita permalink
    March 10, 2011 7:35 pm

    This is the latest on Lolita….SHE IS A FIGHTER and I feel that she will hold on until she sees her family again. She showed interest to the recordings of her family (maybe this is where she gets some of her strength to live the way she does) so I pray she holds on until she is reunited with them again.

  7. Angie Hartman permalink
    March 9, 2011 9:48 pm

    What I don’t understand is that if the poolk Lolita is being kept in all these yrs is illegal because of the size and the no shade issue, then why is she still there? Being kept in that small pool? If its illegal, then its illegal. I don’t get that. Can someone please explain that to me? I mean everything I’ve read seems to link that pool to being an illegal size pool for that animal. But if nothing is done, then what’s to stop them from keeping her or any other orca in a pool that small??? What’s the point in making laws if you’re not going to enforce them? Sorry for the ranting, I’m just really confused about this.

    • March 10, 2011 3:42 am

      Angie, thank you for that heartfelt question. The lack of enforcement of the AWA regulations seems to be a case of the business interests overriding the laws that apply to them. It’s a bit like the lack of oversight of offshore oil drilling that led up to the BP Deep Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The laws may have been passed in good faith with the animals in mind, somewhat, but the implementation of them depends on cultural support from society in general and the culture now encourages big businesses to evade regulatory oversight or enforcement. Enough political pressure could shift the culture back to adhering to the laws and the democratic system that creates the laws. At least in the case of the Seaquarium and Lolita enough political pressure, along with a well-fought legal challenge, could pressure APHIS to enforce the Act.

      Part of their hesitation to enforce the law may be that they’ve been convinced that there would be massive economic dislocation if Lolita left and the park had to close, and that there is no alternative for her anyway. We know there is a very good alternative – her retirement in the San Juan Islands – and that one way or another she will be gone from the Seaquarium in the near future, so the management should plan for the best way to survive that day. We suggest that if she dies there the Seaquarium will forever be stained with causing her death. But if they agree to allowing her to retire safely to the San Juans, the Seaquarium will gain massive positive publicity and can live on. That’s a crass business calculation that doesn’t account for the many dolphins and all the other animals at the park, but it seems like a realistic way for the management to think.

      • Angie permalink
        March 17, 2011 9:58 am

        Howard, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my questions. I hear what you’re saying, but still don’t understand it. But then again, I don’t understand, now that I’m more educated about the whole captivity issue, how anyone can do this to any animal, but everyone has their logic in it I guess. And you made a good point about what the park is going to do when Lolita is gone, whether its by retirement or her untimely death at the park. Will they then be allowed to get another Orca and keep it in the same small tank?
        When you say part of their hesitation to enforce the law is that there could possibly be massive economic dislocation. Who is “they”? And again, what will they do when she is gone? Just wondering.
        It seems there are lots of Lolita supporters down there that frequently demonstrate their dislike for her confinement and home in general. Great job by the way! But can they not force the issue or rather the law, in relation to her tank being too small? I’m just asking, as I’m sure they all have lives and jobs and it may even be costly to do so. I don’t know. So I’m certainly not demeaning the fact that they haven’t. Or maybe they have. And that’s why I’m asking, because I don’t know. It’s just so sad to me. And has seemed to crowd my thoughts a lot lately 😥
        Thanks again for the info you gave earlier. 🙂

        • Amie permalink
          December 5, 2013 10:13 am

          Just a quick FYI, Miami seaquarium is the largest source of income for miami Dade county. The county owns the land and MSQ pays their lease and taxes. This is probably a factor in why they don’t try to move Lolita or pause to build her a larger tank. In the grand scheme of life, Lolita could be retired, and still “seen” by the general public. This type of viewing, in all honesty could generate a profit to cover the retirement costs and a partial cover to the income the seaquarium would no longer have. I am not sure how deep the ripple effect would be on Miami Dade county if these funds are diminished, or if MSQ could afford them without the whale show. But I believe that those types of conversations are factors in her release plan

  8. Kimberly Jones permalink
    March 8, 2011 6:59 pm

    Well written and informative. Heart-wrenching, instills such anger and rage in me as to how this is allowed to continue, how it is legal to just keep something so beautiful for so long, when such a structured plan is in place to allow her to live out her remaining days near her family? I will continue to watch this story.. please keep posting. And God bless Shelby for her dedication!

  9. JEN permalink
    March 8, 2011 5:30 pm

    There is a little gem of an interveiw with Robert Rose on the MSQ website, in which he says that her tank is not illigal and “suitable for any killer whale in general and has been certefied as legal many times” ??????????

    As he is talking Lolita is exibiting typical orca boredom behaviour by surfacing and breathing at exactly the same point evey time (all the SeaWorld orcas do the same thing when not in a show- especially tilikum)

    He has also said in the past that they “love her to much to use her as an experiment and set her free” (I bet seaworld and the other aquaria jumped for joy when keiko died because they could use his death as an excuse not to release them.

  10. JoAlva permalink
    March 8, 2011 2:26 pm

    I just called the Miami Seaquarium and asked kindly, “How is Lolita doing?” and they had me on hold for 5 minutes then hung up on me! I called again, and said, “I believe the phone call was dropped, would you be able to answer my question?” I did not restate it and she said “oh sure” and played a recording about the toothache….errrr???? its weird how no new station has gone and see what is really going on

  11. Lorrie Morris permalink
    March 8, 2011 1:58 pm

    I have forwarded this article to CNN…I am praying for a response.

  12. March 8, 2011 1:13 pm

    Thank you for this news, I’ve been looking all over for *facts* about Toki’s state of being right now, and there is a sad lack of information to be had. I hope that she gets better, I can’t begin to describe how saddened I am by the thought of her passing away in the same lonliness she’s been in for years now.

  13. March 8, 2011 12:47 pm

    Great article and thank you so much for posting this. I too am very very worried.I hate to say it but i believe that her health maybe much more serious than just a toothache and MSQ are defently hiding something and the real state of her health. I just hope that she isn’t dying but i worry that maybe what is going on. Bless her,she really doesn’t deserve this and it makes me so angry and upset to know what us humans have taken from her what life she could of had and we took that away because of our own selfishness and greed all to get money. I will NEVER forgive MSQ and i don’t forgive them now.The life what Hugo lived and how disrespectful they are. If there’s anything that place deserves it deserves to be shut down! That should of happened a long time ago.

    Thank you so much for sharing this article.I have posted a link this article on my orca site. I hope thats ok.

  14. March 8, 2011 11:51 am

    Lolita should have been freed years ago… This should not be happening. Something is wrong here… If it is a tooth ache, then why the helicopter and all the stuff going on at night? I am very worried. She does not deserve to die in that tank.
    Thank you for all this information! 🙂

  15. Emma Daniels permalink
    March 8, 2011 11:51 am

    WOW thank you so so much for posting this……………..she needs to be with her family and im not expert but SHE WILL SURVIVE just look at her spirit……….FREE LOLITA/TOKI

  16. March 8, 2011 10:31 am

    Thank you for everything you are doing for Lolita!


  1. Orca Whale “Lolita’s” Condition Shrouded in Mystery: How to Prevent This Situation in the Future | blog seattlepi com/candacewhiting/
  2. The Hidden Cost Of Captivity- Oral Health of Killer Whales Exposed « The Orca Project
  3. Exclusive Interview #3: Former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg and the Perils of Orca Captivity (part 1) « The Orca Project

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: