On August 8, 1970 Lolita was caught in Penn Cove, Puget Sound, WA. She was one of seven young whales sold to marine parks around the world from a roundup of over 80 orcas conducted by Ted Griffin and Don Goldsberry, partners in a capture operation known as Namu, Inc. Tokitae, as she was originally named, was purchased by Seaquarium veterinarian Dr. Jesse White for about $20,000. On arriving to the Seaquarium Lolita joined another Southern Resident Orca named Hugo who was captured some time before Lolita and had lived in the park two years before her arrival. Tokitae was renamed Lolita "after the heroine in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel" by The Miami News."
She and Hugo lived together for 10 years in what is known as the Whale Bowl, a tank 60-by-80-foot (18 by 24 m) by 20 feet (6 m) deep. Even though the pair mated many times (once to the point of suspending shows) the two never produced any offspring. Hugo died March 4, 1980 after repeatedly smashing his head into the walls of the tank in what has been described as an act of suicide. Since then, Lolita has lived in the Whale Bowl together with a pair of Pacific White Sided dolphins and has never seen another orca again.
While Lolita is Seaquarium's main attraction, she has attracted attention from animal rights groups and anti-captivity activists. In 2003 Lolita was the subject of the documentary Lolita: Slave to Entertainment in which many anti-captivity activists, most notably Ric O'Barry (former Flipper trainer), argue against her current conditions and express a hope that she may be re-introduced to the wild. Protesters assert that the Seaquarium is treating Lolita cruelly.
On January 17, 2015, thousands of protesters from all over the world gathered outside the Seaquarium to ask for Lolita's release, and asked other supporters worldwide to tweet #FreeLolita on Twitter.
In November 2011 Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), PETA, and three individuals filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to end the exclusion of Lolita from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of the Pacific Northwest's Southern Resident orcas. NMFS reviewed ALDF’s joint petition, along with the thousands of comments submitted by the public and found the petition merited. In February 2015, the NOAA announced it would issue a rule to include Lolita in the endangered species list. Although the Orca population that she was taken from is listed as endangered, as a captive animal, Lolita was exempted from this classification. This change does not impact on her captivity at Miami Seaquarium.
On March 18, 2014 a judge dismissed ALDF's case challenging Miami Seaquarium's Animal Welfare Act license to display captive orcas.
In June 2014 ALDF filed a notice of appeal of the District Court decision that found the USDA did not violate the law when it renewed Miami Seaquarium's AWA exhibitor license.
- "About Miami Seaquarium". Miami Seaquarium. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
- Samuels, Robert (15 September 2010). "Lolita still thrives at Miami Seaquarium". seattletimes.nwsource.com. Seattle Times. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
- "Lolita officially named". The Miami News. November 30, 1970.
- "Lolita still thrives at Miami Seaquarium". Seattle Times. September 15, 2010.
- "Sex Drive Stops Whale Show". The Palm Beach Post. December 4, 1977.
- "Lolita: happy, gentle, smart; weighs 4 tons". Boca Raton News.
- Len Varley (18 September 2012). Deeper Water. Balboa Press. pp. 96–. ISBN 978-1-4525-0683-8.
- Lolita: Slave to Entertainment (2003) at the Internet Movie Database
- Lolita: Slave to Entertainment on Facebook
- Rodriguez, Laura (17 January 2015). "Protesters March to Free Orca Lolita from Miami Seaquarium". nbcmiami.com. NBC Miami. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
- "Make a Splash: Free Lolita!". ALDF.
- "Captive killer whale included in endangered listing". NOAA. 4 February 2015.
- "Sequarium Docket". March 18, 2014.
- "Judge’s Refusal to Review Seaquarium’s Violations of Law Prompts Court Appeal". ALDF.