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Fight to save Northwest orcas also being fought in Florida

File photo. (Southern Resident Orca Recovery)

From state task forces and regulations, to nonprofits, various eyes are on Puget Sound with hopes that the region’s iconic orcas will survive.

Howard Garrett with the Orca Network told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross that there are some signs that orcas are improving, but no one can say for sure.

New photos show orca’s health continues to decline

“Well, it remains to be seen,” Garrett said. “We’ve had two new babies this year; a new L pod calf in January, and a J pod calf in June. But we’ve also lost two adults in their prime – a male and a female. And we haven’t seen almost all of them since winter. J and K pods have poked their head in for a total of five days in the spring and summer. That’s unheard of. And L pod hasn’t been seen since January. So we don’t know how they are doing out there.”

Part of the fight to help the Northwest’s orcas is being waged across the country in Florida. The Orca Network has championed an effort to bring Tokitae — also called Lolita — back to the Northwest. The killer whale was first captured in 1970 near Whidbey Island, when she was about four years old. For nearly 50 years now, she has been performing in a small tank. She currently resides and performs at the Miami Seaquarium.

“It’s a miracle she’s still alive,” Garrett said. “It’s a tribute to her strength, her persistence and her stamina. And maybe her desire to come home. It’s almost 50 years that she has been in that tank in Miami, performing twice a day on demand, fed fish for each performance. Absolutely sterile environment, just bathtub walls around her. How does she maintain her mental and physical health? Yet, somehow she does. So she’s kind of an inspiration for being able to persevere in very harsh circumstances.”

Transient orca seen feeding on gray whale near Whidbey Island

Garrett notes that the movement to bring Tokitae home has been growing. In recent years, he says, the Lummi Nation’s council voted unanimously to support the effort.

“It’s their sacred obligation, as a relative who was kidnapped and being incarcerated in Miami all these years. She belongs to them, as their family. And they treat her as family.”

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