Lolita the Orca Close to Going Home!
Captive orca Toki-tae (also known as Lolita and Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut), who lives in the smallest tank in North America at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida, may finally have her chance of going home after a whopping 52 years of suffering in captivity!
At a televised press conference this week, the Seaquarium’s new owners, The Dolphin Company, broke the news that a team of independent veterinary experts has now been invited in to assess Toki! They promised continued transparency about her health and that of all the other animals at Miami Seaquarium. This is a watershed moment, a total break with the way that the Seaquarium has functioned for the 52 years of Toki's captivity there!
At the beginning of March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted a license to The Dolphin Company on the condition that Toki not be displayed. Activists around the world are celebrating the news of her retirement and insisting that she now be returned to her natal waters in the Salish Sea off the coast of Washington state. A collaboration among several NGOs, along with the Miami-Dade County government, is arranging the details for her retirement and hopeful return home, and philanthropist Pritam Singh has just offered $1 million to help make it happen!
There are still obstacles in the way of Toki’s return to the Salish Sea. Pro-captivity spokespersons and critics of the retirement plan have raised objections. They claim that Toki may not survive the transport, or that she may carry dangerous pathogens to her family’s waters, or be exposed to them once she moves.
To refute these people, Howard Garrett of Orca Network, the world’s leading expert on Toki’s family, the Southern Resident Killer Whales, says, “Please try to get to know her better—not just how she behaves there in Miami, but learn about her family the Southern Residents, and her species, Orcinus orca, and their astounding capabilities and intelligence.” He, and the legion of activists known as the Toki Army (or Toki Family), are confident that if Toki passes her medical exam, she will thrive in her home waters!
When she is finally home, at some point she is likely to hear her family's calls during their normal travels nearby. What happens next would be unprecedented in every way for all of them, and can't be predicted with any certainty. But Garrett expects mutual curiosity, communication, and perhaps… reunion. Toki still speaks the unique language of her particular family, and her presumed mother, Ocean Sun, is still alive at 94 years old! To reunite these two after 52 years apart would be a dream come true for Toki, and for those who have fought for her release for decades.
In the coming days or weeks, we will reach out with more definitive information and may possibly ask for actions to be taken on her behalf.
In Defense of Animals has worked in concert with local activists behind the scenes towards Lolita’s release and is thrilled about these promising developments.