Lolita, Miami’s beloved Killer Whale, died on Friday. She was 57 years old.
For many of us who grew up in South Florida, she’s always been a part of our lives. For many, our first experience with Lolita was as a child. We were mesmerized by her size, beauty, and grace.
Lolita added to the love so many South Floridians have for the ocean and its inhabitants. I can remember being a child and wondering if I could swim with Killer Whales. And I know thousands of children aspired to become a marine biologist after seeing Lolita in person.
Back in 1980, I remember passing the Miami Seaquarium as a kid and thinking of Lolita the Killer Whale on our way to “El Farito” or Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. We ended up spending the day at the beach. However, this day was different. We saw a set of fins swimming near the lighthouse. We knew based off the spray from the blow hole that they were marine mammals, but what were they?
I asked my mom, “Were those Killer Whales?” I mean how exciting would it be to have Killer Whales swimming in South Florida waters.
My mom encouraged my curiosity, but in reality, they were either dolphins or pilot whales. Unfortunately, they got stuck on a sandbar. In those days, there were lifeguards at the State Park and a couple of the life guards swam out to help the marine mammals free themselves from the sandbar. As the lifeguards approached the halfway distance to the mammals, the marine mammals freed themselves and swam off.
Ever since then, I imagined what it would be like to see real Orcas (aka Killer Whales) swimming in South Florida waters. You can imagine what a thrill it was to see the story this month of Orcas off Key Largo.
But that admiration for killer whales all started when we fell in love with Lolita, the Killer Whale.
Now I think we can all agree that Lolita did not deserve to live in the smallest Orca enclosure in America. While as a child it all looked huge to me, in reality it was a tiny tank for such an awesome whale.
Despite being confined in such a tight space, Lolita was a gentle killer whale. We never heard stories of Lolita attacking her trainers. The worst story I ever heard was a scuba diver that used to clean the tank. He said that while cleaning the walls of the tank, Lolita would occasionally swim rapidly around the tank creating a centrifugal force of water that would keep him temporarily pinned to the edge of the tank. But it was just temporarily and almost like Lolita was just having fun.
Regardless of whether you think it was okay for Lolita to be in captivity or whether you thought she should be free, it’s safe to say Lolita touched the hearts of millions of Miamians and visitors alike.
Lolita will be missed.