"Over the last two days, Toki started exhibiting serious signs of discomfort, which her full Miami Seaquarium and Friends of Toki medical team began treating immediately and aggressively. Despite receiving the best possible medical care, she passed away Friday afternoon from what is believed to be a renal condition. Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story and especially to the Lummi nation that considered her family. Those of us who have had the honor and privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit," the Seaquarium wrote on Facebook on Friday.
In a statement, the Lummi Nation said:
The Lummi Nation is saddened by the news that our beloved Orca relative has passed away at the estimated age of 57 years old. Our hearts are with all those impacted by this news; our hearts are with her family. We stand in solidarity with our Lummi members whom poured their hearts and souls into bringing Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut home. We will do all we can to start healing from this news and will begin talking about what needs to happen next.
Tokitae, 57, was one of dozens of orcas captured near Penn Cove in the 1970s as a calf that was later sold to aquariums and other venues. She was the only surviving orca in captivity taken in that seizure, up until her death.
Tokitae has spent 52 years in a small pool in the Miami Seaquarium. For decades, people have been trying to bring her back to her ancestral waters – Lummi elders, activists and marine biologists have spent decades trying to negotiate her release. She was living in a tank that was 80 feet by 35 feet (24 meters by 11 meters) and 20 feet (6 meters) deep.
For decades, the Miami Seaquarium scoffed at activists who demanded Tokitae be returned to her home waters.
Things changed in 2022 when the Miami Seaquarium was sold to The Dolphin Company. Earlier this year, a one-of-a-kind partnership was announced between The Dolphin Company and a non-profit called ‘Friends of Toki’ to move her to a sanctuary in her native waters.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Bringing Tokitae home: How to release a long-captive orca?
Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, has committed to bankrolling an operation that included Tokitae’s ongoing care and her eventual transport to the Pacific Northwest. Earlier in the summer, he has teased a date of Tokitae’s return as early as Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Before her death, Toki was being introduced to a sling that would eventually have been used to move her to gradually get her used to the transport. Her caretakers would have had to put her in a C-17 aircraft – what is traditionally considered a military transport plane.
When she got to Puget Sound waters, she wouldn't immediately be set free to open ocean: the plan was to put her in a netted whale sanctuary of about 15 acres (6 hectares). She would be released into an enclosure the size of a couple of football fields within that sanctuary, where she would be under round-the-clock care.
In a recent update for Tokitae dated Aug. 15, the Seaquarium said:
"Lolita is eating well, up to 115 pounds of salmon, herring, capelin and squid each day.
Her interactive time with trainers includes swimming laps, toy play and activity panel sessions as well as soliciting attention from her trainers as they watch, work and play with her on the trainer platform.
Lolita's pool has received numerous improvements with more than $500,000 invested in new chillers, filter media, an ozone generator to replace chlorine and numerous regulators and pumps.
The water is slightly greenish because no chlorine is used to sterilize the pool. The green color is quite healthy and caused by natural algae.
Her pool is cleaned three times each week and maintained at a temperature of 54-58 degrees."
It's unclear where her health took a turn in the last three days.
HOW DID TOKI WIND UP IN CAPTIVITY?
Native American tribes revere orcas, considering them their relatives.
White settlers had a different view. Fishermen reviled the "blackfish" as competition for salmon and sometimes shot them.
That began to change in 1965, when a man named Ted Griffin bought a killer whale that had been caught in a fisherman's net in British Columbia and towed it to the Seattle waterfront. The whale — Namu — became a sensation.
Namu soon died from an infection, but Griffin had set off a craze for capturing the Pacific Northwest's killer whales and training them to perform, as The Seattle Times recounted in a 2018 history. Griffin corralled dozens of orcas off Washington's Whidbey Island in 1970. Several got caught and drowned when opponents cut the nets, intending to free them.
Many orcas remained nearby, declining to leave as their clan members were hauled out of the water. Among those kept was 4-year-old Tokitae, later sold to the Miami Seaquarium.
By the early 1970s, at least 13 Northwest orcas had been killed and 45 delivered to theme parks around the world; Toki is the only one still alive. The roundups reduced the Puget Sound resident population by about 40% and helped cause problems with inbreeding that imperil them today.
Outrage over the captures helped prompt the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
This is a developing story.