Tokitae, or known by her performance name Lolita, has died in the Miami Seaquarium just months ahead of her possible transport back to her home Puget Sound waters. “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. Despite receiving the best possible medical care, she passed away Friday afternoon from what is believed to be a renal condition. Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story and especially to the Lummi nation that considered her family. Those of us who have had the honor and privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit,” the Seaquarium wrote on Facebook on Friday.
Tokitae, 57, was one of dozens of orcas captured near Penn Cove in the 1970s as a calf that was later sold to aquariums and other venues. She was the only surviving orca in captivity taken in that seizure, up until her death. Tokitae has spent 52 years in a small pool in the Miami Seaquarium. For decades, people have been trying to bring her back to her ancestral waters – Lummi elders, activists, and marine biologists have spent decades trying to negotiate her release. She was living in a tank that was 80 feet by 35 feet (24 meters by 11 meters) and 20 feet (6 meters) deep.
For decades, the Miami Seaquarium scoffed at activists who demanded Tokitae be returned to her home waters. Things changed in 2022 when the Miami Seaquarium was sold to The Dolphin Company. Earlier this year, a one-of-a-kind partnership was announced between The Dolphin Company and a non-profit called ‘Friends of Toki’ to move her to a sanctuary in her native waters.
Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, has committed to bankrolling an operation that included Tokitae’s ongoing care and her eventual transport to the Pacific Northwest. Earlier in the summer, he has teased a date of Tokitae’s return as early as Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Before her death, Toki was being introduced to a sling that would eventually have been used to move her to gradually get her used to the transport. Her caretakers would have had to put her in a C-17 aircraft – what is traditionally considered a military transport plane.
When she got to Puget Sound waters, she wouldn’t immediately be set free to open ocean: the plan was to put her in a netted whale sanctuary of about 15 acres (6 hectares). She would be released into an enclosure the size of a couple of football fields within that sanctuary, where she would be under round-the-clock care.