Tokitae | Lolita
Let's go back 50 years to Saturday, August 8th, 1970. Speedboats and explosives were used to force ~80 nearby orcas into Penn Cove. Babies were separated from their mothers and loud vocalizations came from the orca family.
On this day, 7 orcas were removed and sold to marine parks, Tokitae among them. Four calves and one adult drowned in the nets. Their bellies were slit and filled with rocks and weighted objects to avoid public outcry.
These same orca bodies were accidentally recovered a few months later by a trawler and ended up playing a major role in a court decision that banned Sea World from ever capturing another killer whale in Washington State, six years later, in 1976
Image from Wallie Frank
Originally estimated to be ~100-150 Southern Resident Orcas, there are now only 72.
The captures in the 70s, (targeting the smaller females and babies), were the beginning of their decline into endangered status. As one might guess, the remaining gene pool drops in diversity with each additional whale lost.
From 1970-1976, more than 50 orcas from the Salish Sea were delivered to theme parks.
Most all had died by 1987.
Tokitae is the only remaining soul who has outlived the tragic actions taken on behalf of the aquarium industry. You can read more about each capture here.
Our hope is to bring Tokitae back to the Salish Sea to live out her final years in her native waters, and in the presence of her family, the Southern Resident orcas.
Image from Free Lolita
Who is Tokitae (TOE-Key-Tie)?
The stage name of Lolita was given to her by her captors after being sold to marine parks in 1970.
She is a Southern Resident Orca (fish-eating population), believed to be from L-pod because of the calls she uses. She has been called Tokitae and more recently Sk'aliChenl-tenaut by the Lummi Nation.
She has been held captive at the Miami Seaquarium for 50 years.
Her tank there is 80 feet across and 20 feet deep. Tokitae is 22 feet long. For 50 years she has been unable to dive or swim free. She has been unable to swim away from the hot Florida sun, and is forced to perform circus type tricks for food. Her surviving family of Southern Resident orcas regularly travel nearly 100 miles a day and dives hundreds of feet to hunt for salmon.
Furthermore, the importance of wild orcas' social and culture units is deeply intertwined in their existence. Tokitae has been deprived of the comfort of swimming among and interacting with her family.
Her last orca tankmate, Hugo, died in 1980 in what some refer to as a suicide, repeatedly ramming his head on the side of the tank.
Image from Jill Hein
What makes Tokitae keep on living?
What gives her the strength?
Here is an incredible response to this question from Howard Garrett of Orca Network, written some years ago:
"It's impossible to know for sure, but because Lolita was taken at about age six, three or four years older than most of the captives, she may have a more vivid memory of her place of birth and her role in her family and community.
Recent scientific findings presented at a workshop on "culture in marine mammals" at a marine mammalogy conference in Vancouver show that orcas live as members of their societies of birth, and remain members their entire lives. Lolita still calls out in the unique whistles that only her family uses. It's been over thirty-one years since she was removed from her family, but to her, life in that tiny concrete tub may be some kind of unnatural aberration, and she may believe that one day she will return home.
She must still have hope."
And so do we.
Tokitae, we will bring you home.
A Samish Nation Offering
The Salish Sea School's Director, Amy Eberling, was incredibly honored to film and produce this Samish Nation Offering for Tokitae. This was created for Orca Network's virtual event, in honor of the 50 years she has been in captivity.
Where would Tokitae go?
There is a very comprehensive retirement plan for Tokitae. This includes a seapen in a protected waterway in the Salish Sea, near Orcas Island, that is right next to a salmon hatchery. This place is ready to host Tokitae for as long as she needs to be rehabilitated or to simply live out her final years here in retirement.
There are also in-depth plans written for her safe transportation and rehabilitation in the wild.
Have any other captive orcas been released?
Remember Free Willy? The orca in that movie was eventually freed! His name was Keiko and an in-depth rehab and release was orchestrated, giving him over seven years of freedom.
Many call the release a failure (mainly supporters of the captive industry), but they fail to recognize many huge successes!
In 1996, Keiko was successfully transferred (out of terrible conditions) from Mexico City to a seaside sanctuary on the Oregon coast. Here he gained over 1,000 pounds in the first year, his skin lesions almost entirely healed, and after 3 years of rehab he was catching and eating live steelhead.
In 1998, he was healthy enough to travel to a seapen in his natal waters in Iceland. Soon, he was able to swim in the whole netted-off bay and make forays into the open ocean, with a guide boat, sometimes in the company of wild orcas. In 2002, he even made an epic journey on his own from the North Atlantic to the coast of Norway (~1000 miles!).
Why didn't Keiko ever re-integrate with other orcas? He was captured very young (~2 years old) and no one knew the pod he came from, so it was not possible to locate his family for a reunion.
In 2003, he died of what vets presume was acute pneumonia.
But during his final years, he was able to dive as deep as he wanted, re-learn how to catch wild fish, and spend time in an open ocean where he didn't have to perform for food.
It is also important to note that during the time in which Keiko was rehabbed and released, 8 captive orcas died at SeaWorld and at least 20 around the world.
Would Tokitae Remember her Family?
We think this video says it all.
How can you help?
A. LEARN ABOUT LUMMI NATION'S EFFORTS
The Lummi Nation has committed to bringing her home to her native waters in the Salish Sea, and hopefully reuniting her with her original pod, where her mother still swims.
Sign this petition
B. WRITE LETTERS
Miami Seaquarium is operated by Palace Entertainment, which is owned by Parques Reunidos. They need to hear from you! You can write a letter and send it to Palace Entertainment to tell them you want to see Lolita retired to her home waters of Washington State.
You can mail your letters to this address:
Palace Entertainment Corporate Headquarters
4590 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 400
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Letter 2 & 3:
Write to APHIS (The Animal & Plant Inspection Service) and the USDA and ask them to enforce the Animal Welfare Act on behalf of Lolita. APHIS oversees the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the USDA oversees APHIS.
Here are some points to mention: Lolita has spent over 50 years at the Miami Seaquarium in an undersized tank with no shade to protect her from direct sunlight and no protection from the weather, including hurricanes. Her exposure to the sun and weather violates Section 3.103(3)(b) of the Animal Welfare Act. Lolita’s tank is also 13 feet shorter than what is required by the Animal Welfare Act (Section 3.104). Lolita is 22 feet long and weighs over 7,000 pounds. Her tank is way too small for an orca of her size.
You can find more about the violations and a full sample letter from our friends over at Orca Network here.
Send your letters or email to:
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Eastern Regional Director USDA
APHIS Animal Care
920 Main Campus Drive
Suite 200 Raleigh, NC 27606
C. DO NOT SUPPORT any of the Parques Reunidos parks found around the world. These parks are listed here.
D. Watch Blackfish
E. Print out this image and post it on social media with the hashtags #50YearsOfStolenFreedom #RetireLolita. Tag any friends or family members who would benefit from learning more and supporting the cause.
Below you can see one of our recent Guardians of the Sea graduates, Fia, being a leader in marine conservation and ultimately a world changer!!
Dear Secretary Purdue,
It is not right for a beautiful living creature to be taken from her home and family and put in a small cage for 50 years where she can barely live.
You have the power and responsibility to require that APHIS enforce the Animal Welfare Act on behalf of Lolita.
We would love to receive pics of your children (furry or human) or our past students taking action on Tokitae's behalf.
Thank you for taking action!