This week’s #whalewednesday features, Lolita a female orca who currently resides at the Miami Seaquarium (MSQ) in Miami, FL. Lolita was previously named Tokitae (prior to captivity) and is affectionately known by many as Toki.
Tokitae’s birthright is the L25 matriline of the L pod of the Southern resident orca community in the Pacific Northwest. Toki’s mother is L25 Ocean Sun, who is approximately 90 years old, and is photographed regularly by scientists and conservation organizations. Ocean Sun still resides with Toki’s remaining family swimming freely in the open waters where Toki was captured.
On August 8, 1970, in the waters of the Puget Sound, Washington State, a pod of orca’s were rounded up by a group of killer whale herders, led by Ted Griffiths and Don Goldsberry. Using speedboats, an airplane and releasing explosives in the water, they forced the orcas into Penn Cove. The juvenile orcas were separated from their mothers, as the infants were prime candidates to be sold to aquariums, while the adult orcas were released and free to leave. However, the adult pod would not leave their offspring and refused to swim free, vocalizing human-like cries, until the last baby was pulled out of the water, never to return again.
One adult and four infant orcas were killed during this capture. The industry, in an attempt to keep the orca deaths from the public, instructed the herders to slit open the bellies of the dead animals, fill them with rocks, and sink the creatures with anchors, hoping they would never be discovered. It is because of the large number of violent orcas captures by the marine park industry in Washington State waters, that an entire generation of orcas was eliminated, and as a result, this orca population is now considered an endangered species.
One of the orca infants captured was a 4 year old named Tokitae, who was then sold to the Miami Seaquarium and arrived at the marine park on September 24, 1970. Miami Seaquarium then renamed Toki as ‘Lolita’ and she has lived there ever since.
Toki’s tank is the size of a hotel swimming pool and she currently lives alone with no other orca companions. When not performing in her show, Toki floats listlessly in her tank. In the wild, killer whales swim hundreds of miles a day, diving as deep as 500 feet. In her tank, she swims in circles inside the 35 foot wide area and can only go as deep as 20 feet, in a small area in the center of the tank.
Toki has been kept in a tank that violates the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) standards for size requirements. APHIS is an operating unit of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). She is approximately 21 feet long and 7,000 pounds. Per the guidelines, the tank for an orca the size of Toki must be a minimum of 48 feet wide in either direction with a straight line of travel across the middle. Toki’s tank is only 35 feet wide from the front wall to the slide out (work island) barrier. It is 20 feet deep at the deepest point and a mere 12 feet deep around the edges. The Miami Seaquarium is in need of major repairs, and per the Marine Mammal Inventory Report, has a substantial death rate for their animals.
Ken Balcomb, of the Center for Whale Research and Howard Garrett of the Orca Network have devised a plan to retire Toki to her home waters of Washington State. After being in captivity for the majority of her life, Toki is not going to be completely set free in the wild. The plan is to place her in a transitional coastal sanctuary sea pen where she would be rehabilitated under human care. When the time is right, Toki will be given the choice to return to open waters if she so desires. Once rehabilitate, an effort would be made to reintroduce Toki to her natural pod, the Southern Resident Killer Whales. If for any reason, Toki is not ready to be released into open water, she can stay in the bay indefinitely, receive human care for the rest of her life and have to ocean to live in. All of this is an area hundreds of times larger that her 35 foot wide tank where she currently resides.
Video – aerial drone footage of Toki at the Seaquarium – clearly showing how small her tank truly is compare to her size.
Video: Summer of 2013 World-renowned orca biologist Dr. Ingrid Visser from Orca Research Trust visited Toki in Miami.