A killer whale was injured and starved at an aquarium where Flipper was filmed.
Tokitae the whale performed under the name Lolita– now there is a movement to set her free.
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Lolita the killer whale held captive for over 50 years
The Seaquarium in Miami, Florida was accused of serious marine mammal violations last year after a government report. Since then, it has been sold to different owners. However, reports have found that there are still critical issues with the treatment of marine animals at the Seaquarium.
Tokitae goes by the stage name Lolita. She has performed in front of tourists and is the aquarium’s star attraction. She is one of the oldest killer whales in captivity– having been locked up in the Seaquarium for 51 years.
Leaders of the campaign to free Lolita said that she is too big for the miniature tank that she lives in. Her tank is only 20 feet deep and just 35 feet wide.
Tokitae, or ‘Lolita’ finally has the chance to be released into the Pacific north-west, now that she is retired. Conservationists said the whale’s mother is still alive, meaning the pair could be reunited after five decades apart. Tokitae’s mother is in her 90s, but the matriarch still guides a pod of whales in the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea is located between the Canadian province of British Columbia and the U.S. state of Washington.
Activists have been petitioning for killer whales and other mammals in captivity to be released. However, many fear that after years in captivity, the animals will no longer be equipped to survive in the wild. However, Tokitae, has surprised experts because she has managed to stay in good shape despite her confined life.
Whale researcher and activist with the Orca Network on Whidbey Island, Howard Garrett, has been planning her release since 1995. He was astonished by her ability to stay healthy. Tokitae keeps herself busy by doing laps and racing even with no trainers present.
She does not display any of the withdrawn, neurotic, stereotypic behavior that usually indicates brain damage from captivity.
Last year a report was published that revealed the 56-year-old orca was severely underfed, was given rotting fish to eat and was forced to perform while injured. In November 2021, the USDA released a report that listed multiple problems with the aquarium – including “critical” issues with the pools and enclosures for dolphins, seals and the killer whale. There were also serious problems with poor water quality and inadequate shade for the animals.
Inspectors found that dolphins had been injured and some had died – because incompatible animals were often housed together. For about 10 years, Tokitae was forced to share her pool with another killer whale, named Hugo. The male whale died in 1980 after repeatedly slamming his body into the paddock’s glass wall.
The USDA report found that Lolita’s bloodwork showed inflammation after eight days of eating the bad fish. Staff were also known to override objections that the Seaquarium vet would make – including making her perform head-in jumps despite being injured. Trainers also cut the amount of fish that Lolita was meant to receive by 30 pounds a day.
People in South Florida have been campaigning against Seaquarium for decades. Specifically, people have been campaigning or the rights of killer whale Tokitae. The whale has been doing shows twice a day since she was captured in Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s.
The popular TV series Flipper TV was filmed at Miami Seaquarium in the 1960s.
When the report was published, the current owner, Palace Entertainment, had sold the aquarium to the Dolphin Company. The new company, promised to make improvements to the facilities and to allow authorities to make unannounced inspections.
Tokitae’s release has not yet been scheduled. However, it will entail a ten-hour journey in a comfortable whale-sized stretcher from Florida to Washington. However, he release would be rare.