Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay shares plans to move whale Tokitae ‘as soon as we can’

Jul 12, 2023, 9:51 AM | Updated: 9:54 am

miami seaquarium lolita...

Trainer Marcia Hinton pets Tokitae, a captive orca whale, during a performance at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami in the 1990s. (File photo: Nuri Vallbona, Miami Herald via The Associated Press)

(File photo: Nuri Vallbona, Miami Herald via The Associated Press)

Indianapolis Colts owner and philanthropist Jim Irsay said he is still working on bringing the orca whale Tokitae back to the Salish Sea, and he’s personally helping to fund the effort.

“We will get it done, and we are trying to get it done sooner than later,” Irsay said during an appearance Tuesday on “The Pat McAfee Show.” McAfee is a popular sports talk show host who will move his show to from YouTube to ESPN this fall.

More on Southern Resident orcas: Young orca calf spotted with pod of Southern Resident killer whales

Tokiate, the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale, was taken from her native waters about 50 years ago and shipped to the Miami Seaquarium, where she performed under the name “Lolita” for decades.

The effort to bring Tokitae home has gone on for years. But it gained steam when the head of the Dolphin Company, which took over management of the Seaquarium, expressed interest in making it happen.

Irsay said he was personally putting up millions of dollars to pay for the cost of moving her and the permits needed to get the whale home.

“I’m into this thing with my hands on as a producer, and it was going nowhere,” Irsay said. “I’m putting up tens and tens of millions of dollars. I said, ‘Let’s go. She’s healthy, I got the money. Let’s move and get all these permits.'”

The Sacred Lands Conservancy developed a detailed plan to safely fly Tokitae — in a cargo plane — from Florida to Washington, where she would be placed in a large net pen in the Salish Sea. It would be a whole new world of freedom compared to Seaquarium.

The goal is to move Tokitae within the next two years, but federal regulators must still sign off on moving the large mammal.

Irsay discussed his plan to move Tokitae in a large tank in an airplane and make sure she is safe both in transit and once she is relocated.

More on Tokitae: Whale’s return home is ‘righting a wrong’, the Lummi Tribe says

“We’re going to get a big C 17 or 747. We have her tanks. She’s been practicing getting in her netting so she can get put in the tank,” Irsay said. “It’s four feet of natural water with whale whispers and vets with her. All the vets are moving out there, all the trainers, I’m getting housing for them. This is being planned to the detail with aggressive nature of saying, let’s try to get this done. ”

Tokitae also needs to be healthy enough to move. In her latest check-up last month, veterinarians reported the whale’s health as “relatively stable.”

Advocates — including the Lummi Tribe and “Friends of Tokitae“– said there are detailed plans to build her a large net pen where she’d live in the Salish Sea.

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Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay shares plans to move whale Tokitae ‘as soon as we can’