I have been doing some research lately into the 1970 orca roundup in Penn Cove, one of the darker moments in recent Northwest history. Men with long sticks, cable nooses and guns corralled a group of resident orca, separating mothers from their calves. Several whales died during the capture, and more than 50 were kept for captive display. The local orca population has never recovered and is now endangered.
Tokitae, one of the unfortunate calves taken in that roundup, is now the oldest killer whale in captivity. She spent decades performing at the Miami Seaquarium, where she went by the name Lolita and lived in the smallest orca pen in North America.
This past March, the owners of the Miami Seaquarium where Tokitae has been kept announced a plan to begin the process of returning Tokitae to Puget Sound. Financed in large measure by Jim Irsay, owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, the plan is to get her back to where she once belonged in the next 18 to 24 months.
There are still relatives of Tokitae, close relatives, that swim the waters of Puget Sound. Although it’s been more than 50 years, her 90 year-old mother, Ocean Sun, is still out there. There are concerns about all kinds of aspects of this proposed operation but I really hope it all works out. And I want to see it when they are reunited. I’m getting a little misty already.