Lolita Has Spent 45 Years In America's Tiniest Orca Tank

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SeaWorld's orcas aren't living happy lives. But one whale has it even worse.

Lolita is a 49-year-old orca who lives at the Miami Seaquarium. She has the distinction of earning two dubious titles: the oldest orca in captivity, and the orca who lives in the smallest tank in the country.

Captured in 1970 at just 4 years old, Lolita was taken along with a number of her siblings and cousins from the Southern Resident orca population and sold to the Seaquarium for $6,000. The Southern Residents never recovered and, along with Lolita, are currently endangered.

Lolita hasn't fared much better than her family. As of this month - the anniversary of her capture was on August 8 - Lolita has spent 45 years in captivity. She's the last living orca from the largest wild capture in history.

Her tank is barely four body lengths long and is only 35 feet wide and 20 feet at the deepest. In the wild Lolita would easily swim 75 miles every day.

To put it into perspective, here's her tank compared to SeaWorld Orlando's undersized tanks.

These photos are only scaled roughly. For reference, SeaWorld's show tank (the largest part on the left) is 190 feet long. Lolita's entire tank is 80 feet long. (Google Earth)

Though orcas are highly social animals who form intense emotional connections, Lolita hasn't seen another orca since her mate Hugo died in 1980. She currently shares her tiny tank with two dolphins, and has no shade from the hot Florida sun.

But the movement to free her is growing. Several activist groups have sued for her release in recent years, and earlier this month, on the 45th anniversary of her capture, the mayor of Miami Beach and local celebrities added their voices to those calling for her release.

"Miami should be known as the beautiful, modern city that it is - not as the home of the smallest orca tank in North America," Mayor Philip Levine said in a statement. "This endangered animal must be released as soon as possible from the appalling conditions at the Seaquarium and moved to a sanctuary in her home waters."

We focus a lot on SeaWorld here at The Dodo, but Lolita's plight is uniquely tragic. If you'd like to help her, you can send a form email to the CEO of Palace Entertainment, the company behind the Seaquarium.