Miami Seaquarium
The orca show at Miami Seaquarium, starring Lolita, a 7,000-pound (3,200 kg) southern resident orca. The orca show was one of the Seaquarium's main attractions until 2021, when Lolita was taken off-display.
25°43′59″N 80°09′56″W / 25.733°N 80.165525°W / 25.733; -80.165525
Date openedSeptember 24, 1955; 68 years ago (1955-09-24) [1]
LocationVirginia Key, Miami, Florida, US
Land area38 acres (15 ha)
Annual visitors500,000
MembershipsAlliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums AMMPA
OwnerThe Dolphin Company[2]

The Miami Seaquarium is a 38-acre (15 ha) oceanarium located on the island of Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay, Miami-Dade County, Florida located near downtown Miami.

Founded in 1955, it is one of the oldest oceanariums in the United States. In addition to marine mammals, the Miami Seaquarium houses fish, sharks, sea turtles, birds, and reptiles. The park offers daily presentations and hosts overnight camps, events for boy scouts, and group programs. Over 500,000 people visit the facility annually. The park has around 225 employees, and its lease payments and taxes make it the third-largest contributor to Miami-Dade County's revenue.[1]


The park was founded by Fred D. Coppock and Captain W.B. Gray and was the second marine-life attraction in Florida. When it opened in 1955, it was the largest marine-life attraction in the world.[1]

The park's first orca was Hugo, named after Hugo Vihlen.[3] Hugo was captured in February 1968 in Vaughn Bay. Shortly after his capture, Hugo was flown to the Miami Seaquarium where he was held in a small pool for two years. Over the course of 10 years, judging by his behavior, it was clear that Hugo didn't adjust to his life in captivity. Hugo would regularly bang his head against the walls of the tank. On March 4, 1980, Hugo died of a brain aneurysm after a history of repeated self injury.[4]

From 1963 through 1967, eighty-eight episodes of the 1960s TV show Flipper and two movies starring Flipper were filmed at the Miami Seaquarium. From 1963 to 1991, the Seaquarium also had the Miami Seaquarium Spacerail, which was the first hanging monorail in the United States.[citation needed]

In 2014 Miami Seaquarium was bought by Palace Entertainment.[5][6]

In 2022, the Miami Seaquarium was acquired by The Dolphin Company, which said that any negligence in animal care preceded their arrival.[7][8] A 2023 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspection Report found several violations of the Animal Welfare Act.[9] The report cited inadequate veterinary care, animal handling, facilities, employees and/or attendants, and critical separation of animals.[4] Miami-Dade County has the option to terminate the Seaquarium’s lease and has considered that option as they have ongoing concerns about care of animals.[10] In January 2024, the USDA was satisfied that the operators had addressed issues related to their notice of intent to confiscate to remove certain animals.[11] The lease requirements mandate certifications from both Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and American Humane. Local media reported in February 2024 that they had lost their accreditation from American Humane.[12] The Dolphin Company was also behind on its rent payment according to the county’s parks department.[13]

In March 2024, Miami-Dade County sent a lease termination notice to The Dolphin Company, giving the Seaquarium's owner until April 21 to move out. In the notice, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava cited a “long and troubling history of violations.”[14]

Lolita the Orca

Main article: Lolita (orca)

One of the Miami Seaquarium's attractions was Lolita, who, at the time of her death in 2023, was the second oldest orca in captivity after Corky at SeaWorld San Diego. She was the park's last captive orca. Lolita was captured on August 8, 1970 during the Penn Cove capture in Puget Sound, Washington state. She arrived at the Miami Seaquarium on September 24, 1970, where she joined the park's first orca, Hugo. Hugo died in 1980 after injuring himself along the walls of the tank.[15] Animal rights activists argued that the tank didn't meet federal minimum requirements under the Animal Welfare Act, and the USDA made statements in 2017 supporting the activists' argument.[16]

On January 24, 2014 the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed amending the Endangered Species Act to remove the exception that did not include Lolita as part of the ESA-listed Southern resident orcas that live in Washington and British Columbia waters. Activists, who proposed such an action to the NMFS in 2013, were hopeful that this might lead to a healthy retirement in a seapen and possibly an eventual release and reuniting with her pod which is believed by some to include her mother.

The Lummi Nation of Washington State referred to Lolita as Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, or a female orca from an ancestral site in the Penn Cove area of the Salish Sea bioregion.[17] They viewed her as a member of their "qwe lhol mechen," which "'translates to ‘our relative under the water,’” according to former Lummi tribal chairman Jay Julius. Lolita was viewed as a member of the Lummi Nation's family, and they believed that she should have been returned to the Salish Sea bioregion. The Lummi gathered at the Seaquarium numerous times to ask that Lolita be returned.[18][19] In 2018, Seaquarium Curator Emeritus Robert Rose responded to Lummi protests, saying that the Lummi "should be ashamed of themselves, they don’t care about Lolita, they don’t care about her best interests, they don’t really care whether she lives or dies. To them, she is nothing more than a vehicle by which they promote their name, their political agenda, to obtain money and to gain media attention. Shame on them."[20] In response, environmental scholars and Julius have argued that such statements are representative of a troubling pattern of discounting Native American knowledge and relationships which are "part and parcel of the possessive nature of settler colonialism."[17]

The Miami Seaquarium announced on March 30, 2023, that Lolita was expected to be returned to her natal waters in the Pacific Northwest and reside in a semi-wild sea-pen in the Salish Sea for the remainder of her life.[21][22] She would be joined in the relocation efforts by the park's companion pair of pacific white-sided dolphins: Li'i and Loke.[23][24] Loke and her offspring Elelo were instead transferred to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago on August 3, 2023.[25]

On August 18, 2023, the death of Lolita was announced, from what was believed to be a renal condition.[26] On September 25, 2023, the Seaquarium announced that Li’i, the remaining 40-year-old, male Pacific white-sided dolphin that was expected to be moved with Lolita, was relocated to SeaWorld San Antonio and reunited with family members and other Pacific white-sided dolphins to avoid remaining in solitary following Lolita's death.[27][25]


See also


  1. ^ a b c "About Us: History". Archived from the original on March 6, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2013.
  2. ^ "Miami Seaquarium Being Sold". August 18, 2021. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  3. ^ "Miami Seaquarium - About Miami Seaquarium". Miami Seaquarium. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  4. ^ a b "One Dolphin's Story – Hugo". Dolphin Project. August 3, 2015. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  5. ^ "Miami Seaquarium deal is done". The Real Deal. Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  6. ^ "List of parks". Palace Entertainment. Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  7. ^ Ojo, Joseph (March 23, 2023). "Miami-Dade County announces Lolita the Orca will be examined by third party vets". WPLG. Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  8. ^ Diaz, Johnny (March 30, 2023). "Lolita the Orca May Swim Free After Decades at Miami Seaquarium". The New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  9. ^ Vazquez, Christina; Batchelor, Amanda (November 27, 2023). "US Fish and Wildlife assisting with 'transport effort of manatees from Miami Seaquarium'". WPLG. Retrieved November 28, 2023.
  10. ^ Sabovic, Sanela; Gothner, Chris (January 22, 2024). "Mayor seeks to terminate Miami Seaquarium lease". WPLG. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  11. ^ Charles, Alfred (January 23, 2024). "USDA says Miami Seaquarium operators in compliance after finding issues with animal care". CBS News Miami. Retrieved January 24, 2024.
  12. ^ Borges, Carolina; Hudak, Michael (February 9, 2024). "Miami Seaquarium loses accreditation, violating lease". WSVN 7News | Miami. Retrieved February 11, 2024.
  13. ^ Luscombe, Richard (February 11, 2024). "Is a reckoning finally arriving for Miami's troubled Seaquarium?". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved February 14, 2024.
  14. ^ Frieda Frisaro and David Fischer,"Miami Seaquarium gets eviction notice several months after death of Lolita the orca," Associated Press, 8 March 2024.
  15. ^ "Livid Over Lolita's Continued Captivity, Celebrities Call for Boycott of Miami Seaquarium". Miami New Times. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  16. ^ "USDA Officials Say Lolita's Tank at Miami Seaquarium Might Violate Federal Law". Miami New Times. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  17. ^ a b Guernsey, Paul J.; Keeler, Kyle; Julius, Jeremiah ‘Jay’ (July 30, 2021). "How the Lummi Nation Revealed the Limits of Species and Habitats as Conservation Values in the Endangered Species Act: Healing as Indigenous Conservation". Ethics, Policy & Environment. 24 (3): 266–282. doi:10.1080/21550085.2021.1955605. ISSN 2155-0085. S2CID 238820693.
  18. ^ Mapes, Lynda (2018). "Lummi prayers, songs, at Seaquarium just start of effort to free captive whale". Seattle Times.
  19. ^ Priest, Rena (2020). "A captive orca and a chance for our redemption". High Country News.
  20. ^ Rose, Robert (2018). "Lolita Update From Our Curator Emeritus, Robert Rose". Facebook.
  21. ^ Bartick, Alex (March 30, 2023). "Captured Southern Resident orca Lolita to return to Puget Sound after more than 50 years". Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  22. ^ Diaz, Johnny (March 30, 2023). "Lolita the Orca May Swim Free After Decades at Miami Seaquarium". The New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  23. ^ Harris, Alex (March 30, 2023). "Lolita may finally go free. 'Historic' deal clears way to move killer whale from Miami". The Miami Herald. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  24. ^ Aguirre, Louis (March 30, 2023). "Miami Seaquarium announces plan to return orca Lolita to 'home waters'". Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  25. ^ a b Robertson, Linda (September 25, 2023). "Lolita's companion dolphin at Seaquarium moved to SeaWorld". The Miami Herald. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  26. ^ Jiménez, Jesus (August 18, 2023). "Lolita the Orca, Mainstay of Miami Seaquarium for 50 Years, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved August 19, 2023.
  27. ^ Alonso, Melissa (September 25, 2023). "Li'i the dolphin, companion to Lolita the orca, moved from Miami Seaquarium to SeaWorld San Antonio". CNN. Retrieved October 17, 2023.