On 30th March 2023, the Miami Seaquarium in Florida, US, announced the signing of a formal and binding agreement with a group called the Friends of Toki to begin the process of returning Tokitae the Orca to Puget Sound, where she was abducted more than 50 years ago. The news release states they are “working toward and hope the relocation will be possible in the next 18 to 24 months”.
Tokitae, who was named Lolita by the aquarium that forced her to perform for decades, is the oldest killer whale in captivity, where she lived in the smallest orca enclosure in North America. Now, thanks to a “generous contribution” from Jim Irsay, owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, it seems that the plans to relocate her to the waters off the coast of Washington State, near Penn Cove, Whidbey Island, where she used to live when she was wild, are set in motion. Ocean Sun, a 90-year-old orca believed to be her mother, still lives in the L-pod of Orcas in the Salish Sea, so it is possible she will meet her daughter again. Tokitae, who was captured in the summer of 1970, will be first released into a pen constructed with the help of the Whale Sanctuary Project, which is also creating a whale sanctuary off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Many animal protection organisations, including PETA, as well as the native Lummi people who call Tokitae Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, have been campaigning for her release for years. Among these organisations Friend of Toki (or Friend of Lolita) has been leading the campaign. This is a Florida non-profit corporation co-founded by philanthropist and environmentalist Pritam Singh and Charles Vinick with leading marine mammal scientists.