Tokitae, an orca also known as Lolita, has died at Miami Seaquarium at the age of 57
Tokitae, who spent more than half a century in captivity performing in front of crowds, was awaiting release into her home waters.
Tokitae's life in captivity began in 1970 when she was caught in the infamous Penn Cove captures. At that time, a U.S.-based company had a mission: to source orcas for the rapidly expanding marine park industry. In the month of August 1970, they employed an extensive operation involving boats, planes, and even explosives.
Their goal was to corral a group of Southern Resident orcas into the shallows of Penn Cove, near Seattle. It all began with the heart-wrenching separation of distressed, wailing mothers from their calves. Tragically, some orcas became entangled in the nets, losing their lives in the process. The bodies were then filled with stones and consigned to the depths.
Meanwhile, the surviving young calves were plucked away and dispatched to marine parks worldwide, although most met their untimely demise within a short span of time.
Tokitae survived but she endured captivity in horrific conditions for a staggering 52 years, confined within what has come to be known as the smallest orca tank in North America, colloquially referred to as the 'Whale Bowl'.
Originally christened with a name that signifies 'bright day, pretty colours' in the Chinook language, she was subsequently rebranded as 'Lolita' for performance purposes.
Decades of campaigning
Tokitae became a focus for animal rights campaigners, protestors and lawyers, who fought for the orca's release for years with the hope that she might even be able to be reintegrated into her pod. In fact, the very orca believed to be Tokitae's mother continues to thrive in her 90s, serving as the venerable matriarch of the pod. All cries for her release were ignored for years.
Eventually, in 2023, plans were in the making for Tokitae to be moved to an ocean sanctuary off the coast of Washington State and Canada, where she would have been able to swim in a netted-off area of her home waters with continuous human care.
The news of Tokitae's passing is so heart-breaking. We wanted to see her move to freedom, to the ocean where she should always have been.
Captivity for whales and dolphins needs to end now
We must remember, Tokitae isn’t the only orca living out her life in a barren tank. We must continue to fight for the thousands of other cetaceans who are still suffering in captivity, and prevent more sentient creatures being bred or captured for tourism venues.
Whether bred in captivity, or captured from the wild, making wild animals perform for tourist entertainment is cruel, outdated and needs to end.
Tokitae’s story highlights the need to end the captive whale and dolphin entertainment industry once and for all.
We ask tourists to continue to avoid these cruel venues.
To all those who continue to exploit animals for entertainment: your time profiting from cruelty is running out. Now is the time to do the right thing.
Swim freely and in peace, beautiful Tokitae 🌊
Tokitae was dubbed the ‘world’s loneliest dolphin’ as she was the only orca in the smallest orca tank in North America for decades