Tag Archives: Tokitae

Is the captive Southern Resident orca Lolita dying?

Miami 6 February 2022 – PETA has just learned from confidential sources of egregious developments and animal failings at the Miami Seaquarium. Beloved Lolita the orca—whose small, shallow, barren concrete tank has been closed to the public for months—is reportedly suffering from pneumonia and is in danger of not receiving adequate care. The current attending veterinarian, Shelby Loos, reportedly possessed no orca experience when she was hired in 2019. She left in 2020 but was rehired last year after the Seaquarium fired its longtime head veterinarian after she expressed concern about the extent of animal suffering at the park.

“Lolita has suffered for five decades in this despicable animal prison, and if she has pneumonia, that greatly increases the risk of dying she faces in this inadequate facility,” says PETA Foundation Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman. “PETA is calling on the Seaquarium to shut down before any more sentient beings suffer and die in its tiny tanks.”

The whistleblowers also shared with PETA horrific photographs of Abaco, a 19-year-old dolphin who drowned after his rostrum became entangled in a net separating two pools and, as his necropsy revealed, had also incurred injuries from being attacked by incompatible dolphins. Abaco was one of six animals who died at the Seaquarium in 2019 and 2020, all from trauma-related causes—including to the head and neck with hemorrhaging.

In September, PETA obtained a damning 17-page federal inspection report revealing a slew of animal welfare violations at the Seaquarium, including that it had failed to provide Lolita and several other animals with sufficient shade, leaving them in direct sunlight, which can cause painful damage to their eyes. This is the first time the USDA cited the facility for insufficient shade, even though PETA has been raising the issue for years. Lolita has been held alone there for more than 40 years. She displays repetitive and abnormal behavior, which, according to marine mammal experts, indicates severe psychological trauma. The Seaquarium is currently under further investigation by the USDA.

From Peta’s media release

Deadline Looms for Captive Orca Whale; You Can Help Lolita, the Fisheries Service is Listening Until 6/28/13

“We just had the most amazing trip … L25, Ocean Sun, scared a fish out from under the boat and teamed up with L41, Mega, to take it down”.  SpringTide Whale Tours
On June 18th, the Victoria, B.C. SpringTide Whale Tours reported watching Ocean Sun (L 25) the mother of the captive orca Lolita, catch fish with her companion, Mega (L 41).  It must have been thrilling, yet whenever Ocean Sun is seen, thoughts inevitably turn to the circumstances of her daughter’s capture and subsequent confinement at Miami Seaquarium.
You can help in the effort to improve her life by making a comment as to why this whale should have the same endangered species status as the rest of her family.  Please comment to the National Marine Fisheries Service site by June 28th (information is below). It has taken a long time to get this far (I wrote about it back in February of 2010 Captive L Pod Orca is Caught in a Legal Quagmire), please don’t let the opportunity pass!

(Courtesy Orca Network)
(Courtesy of Orca Network)

(More background information from the National Fisheries Service on Lolita can be found HERE.)

Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Lolita's mother, Ocean Sun, has the distinctive open 'saddle' behind her dorsal fin. Photo by Dave Ellifrit,courtesy the Center for Whale Research
Lolita’s mother, Ocean Sun, has the distinctive open patch behind her dorsal fin. Photo by Dave Ellifrit,courtesy the Center for Whale Research

The petition addressed by this notice describes Lolita, a female killer whale captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, who currently resides at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida, as the only remaining member of the Southern Residents alive in captivity. The petitioners present biological information about Lolita’s genetic heritage and contend that Lolita is a member of the endangered Southern Resident DPS and should be included under the ESA listing. In addition, they provide a legal argument regarding the applicability of the ESA to captive members of endangered species. The petition also includes information about how each of the five section 4(a)(1) factors applies with respect to Lolita. Lastly, the petitioners contend that including Lolita in the ESA listing will contribute to conservation of the wild Southern Resident killer whale population.
Please make comments by June 28th at the Federal site!

Lolita, the Wild Southern Resident Killer Whale Living in Captivity May Receive Protected Status, Government Announces Today (4/24/13)

(Orca Network)
(Orca Network)

Today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that it will consider whether or not the captive orca Lolita (Tokitae) should be allowed the same protection as her wild family. Originally she was purposefully excluded from the protection of the endangered status that the rest of her family enjoys ( Captive L-pod Orca Is Caught In A Legal Quagmire). This decision is good news, and now once again it is time to correspond and sign petitions. The release from NMFS:

Petition To Include The Killer Whale Known As Lolita In The Endangered Species Act Listing Of Southern Resident Killer Whales

Apr. 24, 2013: We accepted a petition to include the captive killer whale known as Lolita in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of Southern Resident killer whales. We are soliciting scientific and commercial information about Lolita’s status to ensure that our ongoing status review is comprehensive. Acceptance of this petition doesn’t presuppose any particular outcome. The comment period closes Jun. 28, 2013. See the Federal Register notice and other materials below for more information; or contact Lynne Barre, 206-526-4745.
The Federal Register notice will publish on Monday, April 29, 2013 and at that time people can submit comments via Regulations.gov.   In the “Search” box, enter the docket number, “NOAA-NMFS-2013-0056” and click on the “Search” button.


Endangered Orca “Lolita” Treated Like a Circus Clown by Miami Seaquarium – Embarrassing Photo

For once, words almost escape me – the Miami Seaquarium is clearly stuck in the fifties, and shows an appalling disregard for the values of our modern culture. This routine is akin to chaining up a bald eagle, dressing it in red, white, and blue and teaching it to beg – below even the Miami Seaquarium’s already low standards. This member of the endangered Southern Resident orcas deserves a dignified retirement in her home waters.

Illegally kept endangered orca "Lolita" treated as a circus animal.

Lolita is a solitary orca who has been confined to a tiny concrete tank at the Miami Seaquarium for more than 40 years. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides members of the wild Southern Resident orca population and other endangered animals with a host of protections, including protection against being harmed or harassed. Yet, despite being a member of the Southern Residents, Lolita has been denied all of these protections without any explanation by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
Sign ALDF’s petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service, urging them to include captive members of Lolita’s Southern Resident pod in ESA protections.

This is how the rest of Lolita's family lives. (Center for Whale Research photo)

Whales Protest! Southern Resident Orca Still in Small Tank – 42 Years Today

Today (August 8th) is the 42nd commemoration of the disastrous orca capture that snared a young whale and sentenced her to a life in a tiny tank.
She was first given the name Tokitae, which was changed to the cheesy “Lolita” by the Miami Seaquarium. A few years ago, as a reminder that she is a member of the endangered population of orcas, we gave her the honorary number L-pc25 (“L” for her natal pod, “pc” for Penn Cove where she was captured, and “25” for the whale assumed to be her mother L-25, who still swims free).
The whales, for their part, are staging a protest:

To learn more, and to help bring this whale home to her family, consider attending one of today’s events:

Coupeville, Whidbey Island, WA – August 2012 marks the 42nd anniversary of Lolita’s capture from her family, the Southern Resident orcas, in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island, WA.
To commemorate this anniversary, Orca Network is holding our annual event in Coupeville on the waters and shore of Penn Cove to remember all the orcas who died during the captures or in captivity, and to honor Lolita, or Tokitae, the sole survivor of those taken from the Southern Resident orcas, held in a small tank at the Miami Seaquarium since 1970.
On Wednesday August 8th, please join us from 4 – 6 pm, for a ceremonial cruise on Penn Cove, Whidbey Island, around the perimeter of the capture site. Captain John Stone of Aeolian Adventures has generously offered his 52 foot classic ketch, Cutty Sark, for this two hour cruise with special guests (very limited space available – tickets $40/person), and Captain Billy Wind has offered his sailboat Stella Blue as well for those without boats who want to participate in the on-the-water portion of the event, for a $30 fee. You may also participate with your own sail or motor boat, kayak, or rowboat and join our fleet by launching from Capt. Coupe Park in Coupeville, to join our vessels at the Coupeville Wharf for a group departure at 4 pm.
We’ll travel to the capture site in Penn Cove for a wreath ceremony to remember the orcas killed in the capture, and those who have died in captivity. We’ll provide flowers and cedar sprigs to toss into the water, or you may bring your own flower or other eco-friendly offering to toss in the water during the ceremony. The vessels will circle Penn Cove and the capture site, and time/weather permitting, will take a short tour of Penn Cove before returning to the Coupeville Wharf at approximately 6 pm.
Following the on-the-water events, we will gather at the Coupeville Wharf at 6 pm for a few short presentations, music from the Shifty Sailors (6:30 pm), and sharing of stories about the captures, Lolita, and the future of her family, the Southern Resident orcas, and updates on other captive orca news, such as the release of the new book “Death at SeaWorld” by David Kirby.

Violent Dolphin Capture Caught On Video

(Update of a previous post)
The capture of the Southern Resident orca L-pod member, now known as “Lolita” and living at the Miami Seaquarium, was a horrifying event in which several of her family members were killed, their stomachs slit, filled with rocks, and the bodies allowed to sink. Those readers who follow this blog have probably noticed that I try to stay away from this type of really graphic information, and I do find solace in knowing that the Southern Resident orcas are now protected from that kind of violence at human hands. But the cruel practices of whaling and of capturing cetaceans continues to take place in other regions, and SeaWorld and other amusement parks have been tied to this international trade.
Two days ago (9/7/11), the violent capture and killing of dolphins resumed.  Below is a celebrity plea for you to get involved, and below that is actual video of the capture and killing method.

DOLPHIN – MY FRIEND – PSA — WATCH IT! from Dolphin Project on Vimeo.
From activist Ric O’Barry (savejapandolphins.org):

The Japanese government allows about 20,000 dolphins to be caught each year and defends the hunts as traditional, but most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat.
The fisherman does appear to stab the dolphin behind its blowhole. But the dolphin’s death is far from quick, and couldn’t under any circumstances be considered humane. You’ll see how many of the dolphins desperately throw themselves on the rocky coastline in an effort to escape, or perhaps hasten their own inevitable death.
According to a spokesperson with the Japanese Fisheries Agency, this method “kills the dolphins instantly.” In fact, the video footage shows dolphins thrashing in agony for long minutes, amid their own blood and the screams of other dolphins being killed.


*For information on what you can do to help, go to Save Japan Dolphins.

Orca Whale “Lolita’s” Condition Shrouded in Mystery: How to Prevent This Situation in the Future

For over a week the Miami Seaquarium has been tight-lipped about why they pulled their star performing orca from display, only reporting that the whale has had a flare up of the chronic toothache that has bothered her since 1994.  Observers have reported odd comings and goings, including the arrival of a helicopter carrying four individuals with backpacks on Sunday (complete story can be found at the Orca Project).  When inquiries are made to the amusement park, concerned individuals and media alike are given the same message – “Lolita has a toothache, is being treated with antibiotics, and is eating normally”).  Yet visitors are told that the tank is undergoing repairs by some employees, and some visitors have seen or heard the whale working with trainers.  All this has caused upset and frustration to those who are concerned with the welfare of captive orcas, and the attitude of indifference from the staff at the theme park has put a match to the short fuse of tolerance exhibited to this point by activists.
The Seaquarium’s petulant meta-message is that they consider the orca  to be their property and that they don’t have to say or do anything they don’t want to;  but like a child who can’t resist poking a hornet’s nest they might just find out that their handling of this situation is about to cause them real difficulty. They have flipped a virtual finger at the world, and certainly no one appreciates that little gesture.
To date, people have lit candles, protested, had call-ins, and held community rallies, all in an effort to get some accurate information – to no avail – and are now looking to legal means to force compliance from the Seaquarium.
The best bet?  A simple modification of a tiny sentence buried in a government document will do the trick to force compliance and open communication. In 2005,  “Lolita” was deprived of the status of ‘endangered species’ when the rest of her family was granted it, a status which would force the Miami Seaquarium to obtain permits before transporting or breeding her, and would have allowed for more thorough inspections.  A handful of public employees made this decision, no doubt with input from the amusement parks that exhibit orcas:
69910 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 222 / Friday, November 18, 2005 / Rules and Regulations
“Based on the best scientific and commercial data available, the comments received, and after taking into account efforts being made to protect Southern Resident killer whales, we (NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)) are listing the Southern Resident DPS as endangered. The Southern Resident killer whale DPS [Distinct Population Segment] will be listed under the ESA [Endangered Species Act] as endangered as of the effective date of this rule.
The Southern Resident killer whale DPS
does not include killer whales from J, K
or L pod placed in captivity prior to
listing, nor does it include their captive
born progeny.”

(“Lolita” is the only whale to which this applies).
The standards for the Animal Welfare Act are set by Congressional legislation; responsibility for a specific whale or whales in general can be changed only via legislation. Because “Lolita” was captured prior to the enactment of the marine mammal protection act, she is also deprived of the rights given to all free roaming marine mammals today.  But here is the good news, these laws can be changed by an act of Congress – just another short sentence or two amending the Endangered Species Act will do the trick, and this is done frequently and easily.
It is my hope that someone will organize a campaign to lobby Congress, but in the meantime call or write your members of Congress and asked to have this situation fixed.  No matter how you feel about keeping whales in captivity, the idea that a few corporations could influence our laws is just plain un-American.

Creative Commons Photo

More information on the specific laws:
Quick Summary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A. (2010)
With certain exceptions, the ESA protects endangered and threatened species from extinction by prohibiting the importing, exporting, taking, possessing, selling, and transporting of such species. It also prohibits the destruction of their critical habitat. ESA provisions are enforced through the use of citizen suits, imprisonment, fines, and forfeiture.
Detailed Discussion of the Laws Affecting Zoos Kali S. Grech
The laws currently in place to protect zoo animals have proved inadequate thus far. While the AWA does purport to protect the welfare of animals, only minimum standards exist, and even then, huge classes of animals are exempted from the provisions. Other statutes regulating transport and documentation of zoo animals apply only to animals specifically listed. With regard to the existing statutes, ineffective enforcement, resource shortages, and the lack of citizen suit provisions to allow concerned parties to argue on behalf of zoo animal welfare hinder the process. Voluntary standards are admirable, but not required. And in light of such exposes as “Animal Underworld,” all laws, regulations, and voluntary standards seem to be ineffective in truly protecting zoo animals. Unfortunately, under the existing circumstances, this means that zoo animals suffer simply so patrons can observe them at the zoo, which is an unfair lifetime sentence for any innocent, sentient being.
Overview of Laws Concerning Orcas in Captivity Lauren Tierney (2010)
The issue remains not of the whether facilities and organizations are following the law, but of the adequacy of the laws themselves. The minimum requirements of an orca enclosure are that it must be twice the length of the orca housed within.  Is this an adequate standard for an animal that is capable of swimming over 100 miles in a single day?  One whale expert claims that building a tank the size of Rhode Island would not be adequate to house a mammal capable of swimming one hundred miles a day (See Tilikum’s Law).  The depth of the enclosure must also be only that of half the length of the whale.  Is this an adequate standard for a whale capable of diving hundreds of feet below the surface and typically spends most of its time under the surface of the water?  It is difficult to file and win a case against a facility who is legally meeting all of the required standards.
Brief Summaries of Federal Animal Protection Statutes
Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972,
16 U.S.C. §§ 1361-1423h

The 1994 statute also amended 16 U.S.C. § 1374 to provide that the Secretary
of Commerce may issue permits “to take or import a marine mammal for the purpose
of public display only to a person which the Secretary determines … is registered or
holds a license issued under” the Animal Welfare Act. The effect of this provision
apparently is that the Department of Agriculture rather than the National Marine
Fisheries Service is authorized to regulate such marine mammals once they are held
in captivity. 108 Stat. 537 (1994).21

(21 This provision was opposed by animal rights advocates, who took the position that
“NMFS has years of experience in monitoring this act, as well as other marine mammal
issues. In contrast, the USDA has lacked both the commitment and ability to protect animals
under the federal Animal Welfare Act.” Animal Legal Defense Fund, The Animals’
Advocate (spring 1994) at 2.)

Captive L-pod Orca Is Caught In A Legal Quagmire

One of the Southern Resident orcas captured in 1971 continues to reside in captivity at the old and tired Miami Seaquarium. This lonely whale was given the unfortunate name “Lolita” and lives in a sub-standard pool without companions of her species. She is getting old, has to perform tricks for her dinner, and has no other orcas for company. There is nothing for her to do but to circle her pool or lie on the bottom when she is not being forced to perform.

Lolita performs for sparse audiences in a sad theme park.

This confinement is cruel for an animal species which has been shown to be bright and highly social – orcas have one of the strongest family bonds in the animal kingdom. They rarely sleep and they swim hundreds of miles a day.
Day after day, month after month, year after year…Lolita’s life never changes.

Creative Commons Photo

Gone are the days when we enjoyed seeing large animals in small cages, or marveled at the sight of an elephant chained to a post on a concrete pad…yet magnificent whales and dolphins are allowed to be kept like giant fish in small tanks and are trained to dumb tricks for our amusement. If they are allowed to breed, the families are separated, sold, or traded.
Caring people have been trying to help Lolita (a member of L-pod) for decades – writing letters, protesting, raising awareness – but Lolita’s captors are indifferent and uncaring, and they hide behind loopholes in the laws designed to protect our rare and valuable wild animals.
I have talked to people in Senator Murray’s office, at NOAA, and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (Governor Gregoire’s office directed my information request to them). Senator Cantwell’s office has never responded to emails or phone calls, on any of the orca issues (salmon, vessel regulations, or captivity).
What it boils down to is that Lolita needs a lawyer, and a good one. Here is why:
First, Lolita was captured right before the Marine Mammal Protection Act was implemented.
Second, because she was caught ‘pre-act’, the powers-that-be decided she should be directly excluded from the status of endangered that protects the rest of her family (the document reads ‘any member of J, K, or L pods’ in captivity).
Third, Animal Welfare is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. When it came to determining what standards a dolphin or whale should have in captivity, they asked the theme parks and aquaria to set the standards, not biologists.
Fourth, the Animal and Plant Inspection Service (known as APHIS) is required to inspect and enforce compliance with the pathetic standards set by the theme parks. It is up to them to interpret the measurements, and they consistently measure Lolita’s pool incorrectly.
And fifth… no one in any of these organizations with whom I spoke feels they can do anything to change the standards set for captive cetaceans. But people made the decisions that allow a handful of individuals get very wealthy in the mistreatment of these gentle (and in the case of Lolita; endangered) animals. So it would seem that people can also change those laws and remedy the situation.
Meanwhile, individuals and groups continue their efforts to improve Lolita’s life. In 2009 Shelby Proie and SaveLolita.com used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain inspection records and to have their complaints addressed. As far as I can tell by looking at the documents, it looks like APHIS denied some of the information on the basis that “it’s release would cause a clearly unwarrented invasion of personal privacy”. The results that they did provide were not remarkable, other than to state that Lolita has the company of Pacific white-sided dolphins, and they are “biologically related” to orcas. That is like saying locking a human up with a monkey for company is equivalent to a human companion. That may be true for the owners of the theme park, but it certainly isn’t true for most of humanity.
It may take an Act of Congress to make it right – but given the fact that Lolita is one of only 89 whales like her in the world, shouldn’t that effort be made?

Standards of Care for Endangered Whales

L-pod member “Lolita” is from a locally endangered population of orcas, one of only 86 of those whales left. Her life is far from ideal, and she is not being kept in a pool that is legal, even by the low standards set by the theme parks. How can this be rectified?

In the wild, orcas rarely stop moving. (Photo courtesy OrcaNetwork, taken by Peter Pijpelink)

Marine mammals are protected everywhere in the wild, but when “Lolita’s” pod, along with the other pods that comprise the Southern Resident Killer Whales received the status of Endangered in 2005 {corrected}, an exception was written into the documents excluding all members of J, K, and L pods living in captivity at the time. “Lolita” was, and remains, the only living member taken from the wild…so the exception must have been written in to exclude one lonely isolated orca.
Now how did that come to pass? Would it not have made more sense to offer her protection and then let the theme park petition to keep her? Would they then not have had to provide a legal pool for her?
And shouldn’t biologists decide what are adequate facilities for marine mammals, not the theme parks themselves?

We are curious about the lives of dolphins and whales (Creative Commons photo)

As a society our values seem to have taken a shift since the early days of zoos, circuses, and theme parks – we really don’t enjoy tired acts and worn out displays, and it is painful to think about intelligent, harmless and gentle beings confined in miserable looking situations away from others of their own species.
Yet we are conflicted…we have learned a great deal about orcas and other dolphins by studying captives, and we want to increase our knowledge. Reasonably enough, both polls (The Center for Whale Research and Facebook) show that if dolphins and whales are in captivity, most poll takers expressed that it should be for research purposes – although I think that there is far more to be gained by researching them in the wild at this point.
In the meantime, a member of a locally endangered species languishes in a sad theme park without the company of her own species, in a substandard pool.
I have written to both Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell and requested that they share with us explanations as to the government’s lack of action, and will post their replies when I receive them.