August 21, 2023
Tokitae, also known as Lolita or Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, was a female orca who spent more than 50 years in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium. She was captured from her family in the Salish Sea in 1970, when she was about four years old, and sold to the aquarium for $6,000. She was also the subject of a long and passionate campaign by activists, scientists, and Native Americans to free her from her small and barren tank and return her to her home waters.
On Friday, August 18, 2023, Tokitae passed away from what is believed to be a renal condition. She was estimated to be 57 years old, making her the second-oldest orca in captivity. Her death came as plans were underway to relocate her to a sea pen in the Pacific Northwest, where she could have lived out her days in a more natural environment and possibly reunited with her mother, Ocean Sun, who is still alive and swimming with Tokitae’s relatives in the L-pod of resident killer whales.
Tokitae's life in captivity was far from natural or humane. She was kept in a small, concrete tank that did not meet the minimum standards set by the Animal Welfare Act. She had no companions of her own species, and her only social interaction was with dolphins that shared her tank, including Li'l who is now alone in the tank. She had not seen another orca since 1980, when her tank mate, Hugo, died after repeatedly smashing his head against the wall.
Tokitae’s story touched the hearts of many people around the world, who saw her as a symbol of the plight of captive orcas and the need to protect them from exploitation and abuse. Tokitae was considered a family member by the Lummi Nation, a Native American tribe that has a spiritual connection to the orcas and has been advocating for Tokitae’s release for years. They gave her the name Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, which means “daughter of the stars”.
Tokitae’s death is a tragic reminder of the suffering and injustice that captive orcas endure, and the urgency to end this cruel practice. There are still more than 50 orcas in captivity around the world, most of them born in captivity and never knowing the freedom of the ocean. They face many health problems, such as dental damage, skin infections, stress, depression, and shortened lifespans. They also suffer from social isolation, boredom, frustration, and aggression. They deserve better than a life of confinement and entertainment.
Tokitae will be remembered as a beautiful and resilient spirit who never gave up hope for a better life. She will also be remembered as a powerful voice for her species and for all captive animals who deserve respect, compassion and freedom. She will be missed by many who loved her and fought for her freedom. She will always be part of the L-pod family and the Salish Sea community.
Rest in peace, Tokitae.
- Lolita - orca
- Lolita Slave to Entertainment - film
- Video:Protestors outraged as Lolita the orca's body is transported from Miami Seaquarium in a truck
- Video:OrcaStories from Baby Wild Films Presents The Killer Whale People - Video of Toki's capture
- List of deceased captive orcas
- List of living captive orcas
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