On 18th August 2023, Tokitae the orca (also known as Lolita) died due to a suspected renal condition in the world’s smallest orca tank at the Miami Seaquarium, Florida, US., proving that the plans to move her to a seaside sanctuary came too late. In the weeks before her death, veterinarians reported she was experiencing “abdominal/stomach discomfort,” although she was in relatively stable condition.

Tokitae, who was the oldest orca in captivity, was captured with six other killer whales in 1970 in the waters off Penn Cove, near Washington state’s coast, and spent the rest of her life in captivity in small tanks, being forced to perform tricks to entertain aquarium visitors. When she was captured she was about four years old and several other orcas drowned. She was then sold to the Miami Seaquarium and named Lolita by her jailers. Initially, she shared her jail with Hugo, a male orca, for much of her first 10 years in captivity, but he died in 1980 due to a brain aneurysm.

On 30th March 2023, the Miami Seaquarium announced the signing of a formal and binding agreement with a group called the Friends of Toki to begin the process of returning Tokitae to Puget Sound, where she was abducted. The news release stated they are “working toward and hope the relocation will be possible in the next 18 to 24 months”. That turned out to be far too late and she died before she could be freed or taken to a better environment. 

Many animal protection organisations and the native Lummi people who call her Tokitae Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, have been campaigning for her release for years. Among these organisations, Friends of Toki (or Friend of Lolita) has been leading the campaign. In their website they say their “hearts are broken”.

It is believed Tokitae was 57 years of age when she died. According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, In the wild, female orcas live an average of 46 years or a maximum of 80-90 years. Ocean Sun, a 90-year-old orca believed to be Tokitae’s mother, still lives in the L-pod of Orcas in the Salish Sea. She will never see her daughter again. 

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.