Miami Seaquarium Sold to California-Based Group, Lolita's Fate Remains Uncertain
The sale has been in the works for at least two years, but the official news comes out on the same day National Marine Fisheries Service set as the deadline for public comment as to whether the park's orca, Lolita, should be included in the Endangered Species Act listing of Southern Resident killer whales.
According to a report by the Miami Herald, the agreement between Wometco Enterprises and Palace Entertainment signed an agreement in the past month to purchase the 38-acre park on Virginia Key.
The park leases the Virginia Key location from Miami-Dade County on a scale based partly on revenues.
Terms of the deal has not been disclosed,
The deal will be closed once the Miami-Dade County Commission votes to approve of the purchase. The resolution approval might take a few months, the report says.
Seaquarium president and general manager Andrew Hertz tells The Miami Herald that the management team is expected to remain with the new company.
The sale does leave some uncertainty of Lolita's fate, even as the NMFS accepts public comments to include her on the endangered species list along with her pod at Puget Sound, which includes her 85-year-old mother.
The Puget Sound L-pod has been under protection since 2005. Lolita, meanwhile, remains not only the last surviving whale from that pod in captivity, but is also cramped in a very small tank living a solitary life. The tank she lives in is just 35 feet wide and 80 feet across, which is below standards of keeping captive killer whales in tanks that are at least 48 feet all the way around.
Lolita's onetime orca companion, Hugo, died of a brain aneurysm in 1980 after he smashed his head against the tank.
Even if the NMFS approves the ruling, it doesn't necessarily guarantee Lolita's freedom.
"Lolita is a proud ambassador for her species here at the park," Hertz tells the Herald when asked about the sale. "Nothing is going to change with her in the short run as far as her status here at the park or her stadium."
Palace Entertainment initiated the sale, the report says. The park has been open since 1955.