While many of us have fond childhood memories of seeing whales or dolphins perform at theme parks, adulthood brings the knowledge of what really happens behind the scenes. That’s why so many people celebrated in 2022 when it was announced that Tokitae the Orca may finally be set free after a half-century of performing at a marine park. Her mother is still alive, but Tokitae’s return is still in jeopardy.
The orca was captured while swimming with a group of 80 others in a cove on Whidbey Island off Washington state decades ago. According to The Guardian (cited below): “Using boats, explosives, nets, and sticks, they separated young orca calves from their mothers. Locals were haunted by the whales’ human-like cries, according to an account of the day.”
The captors took 6 baby orcas from their mothers that day and sold them to marine parks. Nearly all died quickly, and only 1 is still alive today – Tokitae (whose stage name is Lolita).
The female orca has spent her whole life performing for audiences at the Miami Seaquarium “the smallest orca enclosure in North America.” In 2017, it was revealed that her tank didn’t even meet federal minimum guidelines for orca captivity. In 2022, she was allowed to “retire.”
Trying to return Tokitae to the wild
The Guardian notes that “there’s a chance she could finally go home. Activists are fighting to return the whale…to the Pacific north-west to live out her final days and possibly reconnect with her family. Her mother, believed to be in her 90s, still swims the waters of the Salish Sea, leading a pod of southern resident killer whales to find salmon.”
While activists, animal lovers, and philanthropists around the world have rallied behind her cause recent health assessments from the group Friends of Lolita, found that she has a chronic infection that requires antibiotics.
Their last update on the whale was on August 31, 2022:
UPDATE on the health of Tokitae, Miami Seaquarium’s sole Southern Resident orca, captive since 1970. Antibiotic therapy continues for treatment of a persistent infection, but, on a good note, she is active and continues to be engaged with staff. These are promising signs, despite her chronic health concerns.
Many who know Tokitae and have visited her at the “Whale Bowl” always remark on her astounding ability to persevere after everything she’s been through. She has a strong will to survive that is not easy to miss. She’s an inspiring, impressive orca.
Find more information at: https://www.friendsoflolita.org/ or https://www.facebook.com/OrcaRescuesFoundation/
Some have argued that Tokitae is too old to be released back into the wild, so only time will tell what her fate will be. — WTF fun facts
Source: “After half a century in captivity, Tokitae the performing orca could finally go home” — The Guardian