Miami Seaquarium announced Monday it transported the longtime dolphin who had been a tankmate companion of the late killer whale Lolita to SeaWorld San Antonio Theme Park.
The relocation of Li’I, a Pacific white-sided Dolphin, ended an era for Miami where the killer whale and her companions entertained spectators for decades on Virginia Key — even as animal activists demanded their release.
Seaquarium had been under pressure from former trainers to move Li’i (Lee-EE) after Lolita died Aug. 18, reportedly from renal failure. The necropsy to determine the exact cause of death of the beloved whale – also known as Tokitae – has not been released.
Miami Seaquarium on Monday announced Li’i’s move via X, formerly Twitter:
“After the departure of Lolita, our animal care experts suggested his relocation to a habitat with other peers of his species and our efforts to look for his well-being took him to SeaWorld in San Antonio,” Seaquarium posted. “Although we will very much miss him, we feel happy to know this is the best for him.”
Seaquarium sent out a subsequent news release Monday that said it had been working for months on the relocation of Li’i to an accredited facility. Li’i had lived with Lolita since 1988 after his capture off the coast of California and sired nine offspring.
The transfer occurred Sunday with veterinarians and trainers from both parks working together according to international procedures, Seaquarium said. One of Li’i’s trainers is accompanying him to help with the adaptation process. Eventually, Li’i will join other Pacific white-sided dolphins – some of whom he had lived with previously.
Seaworld San Antonio said it responded “to an urgent request from Seaquarium and NOAA” to provide sanctuary Li’i.
After 35 years under the care of Miami Seaquarium, Li’i, our last Pacific white sided dolphin, who spent the last years with our beloved Lolita, was successfully moved to SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas, to a habitat with other dolphins of his same species. After the departure of… pic.twitter.com/K25TBKre2W— Miami Seaquarium (@MiamiSeaquarium) September 25, 2023
Since Lolita’s death, former Seaquarium trainers and animal activists have been vocal on social media and in protests in front of the facility for Li’I to be transferred.
“It’s about freaking time – should’ve been three weeks ago,” said Shanna Simpson, who was Lolita’s trainer from 2003 to 2009 and an organizer of Truth 4 Toki. “But I’m thrilled that Li’i will have a better life.”
Simpson said one of Li’i’s daughters lives at SeaWorld San Antonio: “He’ll have a familiar face,” she said.
Phil Demers, a Canadian animal activist, on Saturday had posted another video of Li’i swimming alone in the whale tank. Seaquarium sued Demers earlier this year for posting drone video footage of Lolita.
“To an extent it’s a relief because we don’t have to witness him essentially rot away in isolation,” Demers said of the dolphin’s relocation.
A concerned citizen called the Miami Seaquarium to ask about the fate of Li’i, their elderly dolphin living in solitary confinement and in ever deteriorating conditions. Their answer was telling. pic.twitter.com/KEhW8ianRj— Phil Demers (@walruswhisperer) September 23, 2023
Demers said he is not done advocating for the animals left at Seaquarium, saying there are 22 dolphins and other animals still at the park. “They are all living in substandard conditions,” he said.
Lolita, 57, died as plans were underway to move her to a sea pen off the coast of Washington state. Billionaire NFL team owner Jim Irsay and Eduardo Arbor – CEO of The Dolphin Company that owned Seaquarium – were behind the effort.
Lolita’s former trainers had organized for her to be moved to another marine park, saying putting her in wild waters after so many decades in captivity would kill the orca.
While there is no word from Seaquarium on when Lolita’s necropsy results will be released, Albor posted on social media last week the ashes of the orca had been handed over to the Lummi Nation, an Indian tribe that considers the whales to be their relatives.