Killer whale home for Thanksgiving? Maybe not

Jul 13, 2023, 8:38 AM | Updated: 12:49 pm

Indianapolis Colts owner and philanthropist Jim Irsay is sparking hope that an endangered killer whale – taken from Puget Sound in 1970 – could be returned to her native seas by Thanksgiving.

But that might be a long shot.

“She’s healthy, I’ve got the money, let’s move her,” said Irsay on sports analyst Pat McAfee’s show.

Irsay is helping fund the effort to bring home Tokitae, who performed at the Miami Seaqaurium under the name “Lolita” for decades before retiring.

The 5000-pound orca still lives in a tank that’s only about 20 feet deep.

In March, the Seaquarium, the non-profit “Friends of Tokitae,” and Irsay announced they had all signed off on an agreement to return Tokitae to the Salish Sea.

“Let’s get this done. Not next year. Maybe by Thanksgiving, hopefully,” Irsay told McAfee emphatically.

It is a “hope,” but Charles Vinick, who co-founded Friends of Tokitae, cautions, “I think it’s premature to give a specific date, other than to say we’re going to do this as expeditiously as we can.”

Vinick says there are still significant steps ahead.

Whale of a report: 2 new orca calves spotted in L-Pod

Several state, federal and tribal agencies need to sign off on plans for Tokitae’s care and transport to western Washington, as well as the construction of the net pen she would live in, in the waters of the San Juan Islands.

Fortunately, he says the response from those agencies “it’s been very positive.”

Veterinarians, who are monitoring the whale’s health, are optimistic she’ll be healthy enough to move.

It all bodes well for her journey home.

Irsay told McAfee, “We will get it done. And we’re trying to get it done sooner than later.”

Vinick applauds Irsay’s confidence. “He’s saying, let’s keep everyone focused here, don’t drag this out any more than you have to. And Jim is going to keep saying that, and we love that about him.”

Tokitae is a member of the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Right now, there are 75 of those endangered Orcas in the wild, including two new calves born to the L-Pod in recent months.

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter for KIRO Newsradio.

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Killer whale home for Thanksgiving? Maybe not