This is a follow-up to a discussion from last April titled “The Race to Free Washington’s Last Orca in Captivity”
Lolita, the beloved killer whale who’s spent the past five decades at the Miami Seaquarium, died Friday after a sudden illness, officials said.The orca, also known as Toki or Tokitae, passed away from what’s believed to be a renal condition, the Seaquarium said.
“Over the last two days, Toki started exhibiting serious signs of discomfort, which her full Miami Seaquarium and Friends of Toki medical team began treating immediately and aggressively,” the Seaquarium said in a statement. “Despite receiving the best possible medical care, she passed away Friday afternoon.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she was “profoundly saddened” to learn of Lolita’s sudden passing. “Our shared goal has been to increase transparency, create accountability, and strengthen collaboration at the Miami Seaquarium for the benefit of the animals in their care,” Levine Cava said in a statement. “We were proud of the immense progress made over the last 12 months, from the successful transfer of ownership of the Miami Seaquarium to The Dolphin Company, the unprecedented collaboration with the Friends of Toki, and the most recent announcement of her relocation to the wild. Our collective wish was to see Toki in her native waters and we are heartbroken to learn of this sudden loss.”
Tokitae’s ordeal began in the calm waters of Penn Cove, Whidbey Island – a quiet island off the coast of Washington State – five decades ago. (Actually Whidbey Island is an island situated in Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific.) Men with long sticks and guns corralled a group of resident killer whales, separating mothers from their calves. At least a dozen of those whales died during the capture, and more than 50 were kept for captive display.
One of those calves was four-year-old Tokitae. Back home, the native Lummi people call her Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut – meaning that she is a member of Sk’aliCh’elh, the resident family of orcas who call the Salish Sea home. The tribe, who views killer whales as part of their extended family, have never stopped fighting for her release.
Toki’s relatives – members of the resident L-pod in the Salish Sea – are still alive, including the 90-year-old whale believed to be her mother. Experts worry that if she were to encounter her kin, even through a sea pen, the infections Toki picked up in captivity could be spread to other southern resident killer whales, an already-endangered group that numbers only 74 individuals.