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Washington State University

In Memoriam: Tokitae (Lolita)

Posted by rdsayler | August 23, 2023
Lolita (orca)
[Photo: Tokitae (Lolita), the captive orca performing at the Miami Seaquarium. Source: Wikipedia. Credit: Averette. Original photo cropped for clarity. License: CC BY 3.0]

[Foreword: Before we begin, we want to first acknowledge the many deaths, terrible suffering, and devastation caused by fires, storms, flooding, war, and many other tragedies that have occurred in 2023, including the recent horrific fires and loss of life in Lāhainā, Maui, Hawaii. It is not our intent to ignore these and other important losses, but simply to acknowledge and reflect for a moment that suffering and loss of life also occurs in the natural world simultaneous with the tragedies affecting human life.]


The Pacific Northwest and the northwestern tribe, the Lummi, governed by the Lummi Nation (Lhaq’temish or “People of the Sea”) have lost what many felt was an extended member of their family when Tokitae (also called Toki or Lolita or Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut by the Lummi people), recently died at the Miami Seaquarium.

Species: Orcinus orca (orca; killer whale; toothed whale in the dolphin family)
Birth: 1964, Pacific Northwest
Died: August, 18, 2023 in the Miami Seaquarium
Second oldest orca in captivity
Survived by her 95-year-old mother, Ocean Sun (L25)

Tokitae was about 57 years old and was born into the L-pod of southern resident killer whales where she was captured when young and taken away from her mother to be shipped to the Miami Seaquarium where she spent her entire life living and performing in a tank 35 x 80 ft.

From The Guardian:In August 1970, Tokitae’s ordeal began in the calm waters of Penn Cove, Whidbey Island – a quiet island off the coast of Washington state. 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. Toki was probably only a few years old at the time of her capture. A few years later, killer whales were placed under the Endangered Species Act.”

In March, 2023, plans were being made to return Toki to the Puget Sound after a lifetime in captivity, however, it appears that she died of a renal condition before she could experience that freedom.

Toki is survived by her mother, Ocean Sun (L25) who is believed to be about 95 years old, and by other relatives and members of the L-pod of southern resident killer whales living in the Salish Sea.

For photos of the new orca totem pole dedicated to Tokitae and a story about how the Lummi Nation community recently celebrated the life of Tokitae on San Juan Island, see: The Seattle Times

To learn more details about Toki’s life, see: The Guardian; NPR; The Seattle Times


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