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More than half a century after she was captured, Lolita the killer whale is to be released.

The 56-year-old orca was the biggest draw card at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida for several decades.

For years, animal welfare activists were lobbying to get Lolita released.

On Thursday, the seaquarium made the announcement that it will return Lolita to her original home in the Pacific Northwest. The process will take two years.

Jim Isray, the owner of the NFL football team the Indianapolis Colts, has offered to pay for the relocation.

“I’m excited about being part of Lolita’s journey. She is one tough create. It’s amazing. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved whales.”

The BBC reports that Lolita is a female Southern Resident killer whale. These orcas live exclusively in the North Pacific Ocean and spend several months of the year in Washington State’s Puget Sound. This special population of orcas have deemed an endangered species in 2005, due in part to captivity programmes that hunted the animals throughout the 1970s when Lolita was captured.

Image credit: The New York Times

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