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New effort to bring 'Lolita the killer whale' back to Northwest from Miami Seaquarium

The Lummi Nation is making a serious effort to return Tokitae, also known as Lolita the killer whale, back to her ancestral waters of the Northwest. The killer whale was taken from the waters of Penn Cove in 1970 and for the last 47 years, she's been living in a tank at the Miami Seaquarium. (Photo: KOMO News file)

LUMMI ISLAND, Wash. - The Lummi Nation is making a serious effort to return Tokitae, also known as Lolita the killer whale, back to her ancestral waters of the Northwest.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Lummi Nation will join Florida gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine and the Orca Network to ask the Miami Seaquarium to formally release Tokitae from captivity.

The killer whale was taken from the waters of Penn Cove in 1970 and for the last 47 years, she’s been living in a tank at the Miami Seaquarium.

She was the sole survivor of all the orcas that were captured at that time.

The Lummis believe they have an ancestral and treaty rights to bring Tokitae back to the waters from where she was taken.

The tribe is in negotiations with a landowner on Orcas Island to create a permanent pen in a cove that would separate Tokitae for her safety but still allow her to communicate with other whales.

Lolita has been the focus of movies, documentaries and protests for decades.

The Lummi’s have sent the operators of the Miami Seaquarium three letters asking for a meeting to discuss the sale of Lolita, but have not received a message back.

In a statement, the Seaquarium told WPLG-TV, "Miami Seaquarium has the utmost respect for the Lummi nation...however members of the Lummi business council are not marine mammal experts and are misguided when they offer a proposal that is not in the best interest of Lolita."

Jewell James of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers is carving a commemorative totem pole that will depart May 9 for a 4,000 mile awareness journey across the western and southern U.S. and ending at the Miami Sequarium.

“We’ll have 565 tribes behind us, a couple hundred environmental groups and churches before we are done,” said James.

He said the Seaquarium has an opportunity to right a wrong.

“Now if they work with us, they’ll become heroes, if they don't they will lose $1 or $2 billion,” said James.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee will issue an executive order on Wednesday to establish a task force and other measures to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales, which call Washington waters home.

The order will include habitat protection, restoration and Chinook salmon recovery.

The population of whales has declined to its lowest level in 30 years, from 98 in 1995 to 76 today according to the governor’s office.

The Lummi’s hope to add one more.

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