Tokitae, the world’s oldest orca in captivity, is coming back home for her release 50 years after she was taken from the waters of Puget Sound.
Her original name, Tokitae (or Toki), was given to her by the Coast Salish people before she spent those five decades performing at the Miami Seaquarium for guests alongside various trainers and was renamed “Lolita.” Animal rights activists in Florida and Washington have been advocating for her to be freed from captivity for years, highlighting the inherent cruelty of keeping such an enormous, intelligent animal in an inadequately sized tank at a zoo.
Upon her release, advocates hope she can one day be reunited with the L-Pod that frequents the Salish Sea and British Columbia, the matriarch of which is believed to be Tokitae’s mother. However, in order to ensure her safety, the plan, for now, is to place her in a netted whale sanctuary the size of several football fields.
Although residents are excited about her return, trainers that worked with Toki and others are concerned about how the aging whale will handle the dramatic move. Some previous attempts to reintroduce whales accustomed to living in captivity has proven deadly to them. It will be a huge change from the lifestyle and environment she’s been held in for the last five decades, which will likely cause her some distress.
It is hoped that because she was already a few years old when she was captured and had already learned essential skills such as hunting, she will be able to rehabilitate and live out the rest of her life in her natural habitat.