Beloved killer whale Tokitae dies at Miami Seaquarium

Aug 18, 2023, 3:12 PM | Updated: 6:46 pm

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)

Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated a fact about Tokitae’s status as a surviving Southern Resident killer whale. The story has been updated to report the correct fact.

Tokitae, the cherished whale also known as Lolita, died in Florida Friday afternoon.

The last surviving Southern Resident killer whale in captivity died of a renal condition and was in her 50s, according to the Miami Seaquarium.

The aquarium posted the following statement on Facebook:

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 announced the retirement of the orca last year, but she remained in the same 80-foot long by 35-foot wide tank.

For the Lummi Tribe, Tokitae’s return to the Northwest would have been a homecoming.

“It was taught to use that they (whales) are just an extension of our family,” Lummi Tribal member Ellie Kinley said previously. “They’re our family that lives under the waves.”

In a statement Friday, Lummi Nation Chairman Tony Hillaire wrote that the group “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,” Hillaire added. “We will do all we can to start healing from this news and will begin talking about what needs to happen next.

Gov. Jay Inslee wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, Friday that “Our hearts are heavy over the loss of Tokitae …”

“We can honor her legacy in Washington by continuing the important work of supporting and protecting the iconic southern resident orcas,” Inslee added.

In 1970, when Tokitae was about 5 years old, she was taken from Penn Cove off of Whidbey Island and shipped to the Seaquarium where she performed for crowds under the name Lolita. Dozens of orcas were captured near Penn Cove in the 1970s and sold to aquariums and other venues. Toki was the only surviving whale.

“We allowed that daughter to be stolen,” Kinley said.

The effort to bring Tokitae home has been underway for years, but it gained steam when the head of the Dolphin Company, which took over management of the Seaquarium, expressed an interest in the idea.

In 2021, a USDA inspection cited poor conditions at the Seaquarium under its former owner. It had since gotten better.

Ocean Sun, or L25, is believed to be Tokitae’s mother. She is still alive.

Contributing: Steve Coogan

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Beloved killer whale Tokitae dies at Miami Seaquarium