The Tides of Change series takes a deeper dive into the positive changes in benefit of marine life in captivity or the wild, and where we need to continue focusing our efforts to protect these species. Read the first installment here.
SIGN MY PETITION TO ASK EDUARDO ALBOR TO SAVE TOKI'S FAMILY:
It has been over a month since the passing of Tokitae/Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut left us heartbroken and in despair. Many of us, including myself, are still processing and reflecting on the significance of her loss. However, we must accept this without placing blame on ourselves and continue the fight in her legacy. Her family and kin - both wild and captive - still need us. We cannot give up.
Perhaps the most appalling - and revealing - thing that I have noticed in the wake of her death is the deafening silence concerning Toki's endangered family from Eduardo Albor, the Miami Seaquarium, SeaWorld and other large voices in the marine park industry.
Let us not forget that the captures in the 70s - which brought Toki into captivity in the first place - are a large reason that the southern resident orca population is endangered. Now they are threatened by lack of food, for which the lower snake river dams are a primary culprit. It is the responsibility and the obligation of the marine park industry to do their due diligence in righting this wrong that they started. This is what we must fight for. This is Toki's legacy - and it is close to being snuffed out.
Albor and The Dolphin Company have an opportunity to make a difference and show that they truly care about Toki and all that she gave them despite being ripped away from her family at a young age. The remaining animals at the Miami Seaquarium live in squalid conditions and also need to be moved out. I am by no means encouraging that they stay there, but in the process of rebuilding the park or tearing it down and starting anew, Albor has the chance to do something with a lasting impact.
I propose that a display be made - available outside of the park, with no ticket required - so that everyone will be able to learn the stories of the animals who died at the park, including Toki and Hugo, and learn about Toki's endangered wild family and how to protect them. To date, the Miami Seaquarium has tried to cover up the deaths of all the animals who have died there. They deserve to be honored and remembered, after all the countless years that they have been exploited
Additionally, with his influence in owning marine parks, Albor is able to use his voice to work with SeaWorld and other companies to encourage the federal government to breach the dams. They could create a petition for park visitors to sign and pledge to do their part in helping these majestic animals survive.
SeaWorld also needs to do even more for the endangered Southern Resident orca population. While they have supported research and conservation efforts and provided grants to aid the population, they have not been vocal advocates of breaching the Snake River dams that dramatically impact their main food source - Chinook Salmon. With their corporate reach and the amount of visitors they receive each day, they could really sway the public voice by giving people easy steps to voice their concerns to representatives or create a petition for visitors to sign at the parks to breach the dams.
It would be empowering to educate park visitors about this time and show how we as a society have moved forward and now see the species differently - in part, because of the industry following these captures. This history would be incredibly informative and gives these parks a chance to admit their wrongs in the past and show how they want to change it for the better.
Albor and the marine park industry as a whole need to take responsibility and fully right the wrongs done to Toki and her family so that her legacy may live on and we can continue to appreciate and honor these beautiful animals.
If you want to learn more about the southern residents, the threats they face, and how you can take action, please visit the following links and watch the video below:
- https://www.whaleresearch.com/encounters (latest updates on whale sightings and photos)
- https://www.whaleresearch.com/action (take action to help the southern residents here)
TAKE ACTION TO HELP TOKI'S FAMILY - THE SOUTHERN RESIDENTS - HERE: https://www.whaleresearch.com/action
Beautiful. Majestic. Free. Killer whales have inspired us for thousands of years with their beauty and grace. Before her passing on August 18th, Tokitae emanated this strength, beauty, and grace and inspired many of us.
Her family, the southern residents - a population that frequently inhabits the Salish Sea and coastal waters of Washington State - are on the brink of extinction.
While there are other threats, one of the biggest contributors to their struggles is lack of food from major declines in Chinook salmon, their main food source. These declines are primarily caused by dams, such as those on the lower Snake River, that inhibit the spawning patterns of the salmon.
The southern residents are at their lowest numbers since the captures of the population for aquaria in the 1970s. Researchers have correlated these declines to the reduction in salmon available for them to eat. In 2018, one whale from this endangered population named Tahlequah (J35) made headlines after her calf died and she carried it for 16 days after its death.
As top predators, killer whales play a key role by indicating the health of their environment. They are trying to tell us something is wrong. Will we listen before it's too late?
It's time to breach the dams and protect the salmon and this treasured group of killer whales before they are gone.
If you want to spread the message, please share this post!
- https://www.whaleresearch.com/encounters (latest updates on whale sightings and photos)
I will never forget how Toki swam up to me and looked me in the eye when I saw her face to face, the day after we marched for her freedom in 2015. She was truly special.
I would not be here today grieving her loss without her. She inspired me, through learning of how much she endured in her tank, to keep going while battling depression.
I do not feel anger or resentment towards anyone at this time, and I know deep down that Toki would not want us to feel anger and let hatred or vengeance outshine her legacy.
She, by enduring for so long without lashing out at anyone and engaging with those who saw her, taught all of us love and compassion for everyone - those who cared for her included. They are grieving too. I really feel inside that those involved in bringing her home genuinely cared about her. We were too late, but they genuinely cared.
We must come together, learn, and embrace what she taught us - that love and compassion from a single, amazing individual can shine a light brighter than we could possibly imagine. She taught me that these every day acts of love and compassion, of trying to be a light in this dark world, really make a difference.
This is not the end.
Toki lives through us and our actions - every compassionate and loving gesture we make, every time we persevere and endure, every time we use our voice to advocate for those cetaceans still in peril either in captivity or in the wild.
She lives in us.
This is not the end.
Do not give up or linger in despair.
Though not the way I had envisioned, she has finally broken through the clouds. Her light still shines on. Remember her with every action you take. Do not hate. It was not in her nature.
I will never stop fighting for the oceans or marine life.
I will never forget my purpose or abandon love and compassion.
We all must not forget what she has taught us.
Moonbeams and starlight
Ocean and Sky
sometimes grow sad,
but still the stars shine
They flicker and dance,
shining their love and light to guide you,
as I do
Today marks yet another year that Tokitae has languished in abysmal conditions at the Miami Seaquarium. She is the last remaining survivor of a brutal capture on this date in 1970.
This video is a reprise from a short film I made in Tokitae's perspective 8 years ago, called Breaking Through The Clouds (you can watch here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=forOG1ma7_c).
Moonbeams and Starlight, performed by my amazingly talented friend, is a song that Toki's mother sings to her in the film. It still touches my heart and it deserves to stand on its own aside from the film.
May Toki one day soon be free of the Miami Seaquarium <3
Visit https://www.orcanetwork.org/retire-lolita for more information about her story and how you can help.
I was not planning on writing detailed commentary about the recent announcement to retire the orca Tokitae back to her home waters, but the more I read, the more I see reason to share my own perspective. I will be writing a series of posts about Toki, her plight, and exploring the different ways people think we should move forward in giving her a better fate. This post serves as an introduction to those discussions we should be having to best suit Toki’s welfare.
Some of you may have only just heard about Toki – welcome to the journey! Over 50 years ago on August 8th, 1970, she was captured in Penn Cove of Whidbey Island, Washington State along with several other young orca belonging to the southern resident population. Once sent to the Miami Seaquarium, she was given the stage name “Lolita.” The Lummi nation sees her as a member of their people, giving her the name Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut.
During her time in captivity, Toki witnessed Hugo, her tankmate and podmate, bash his head repeatedly against their enclosure until he died of a brain aneurysm. Since that day, she has never seen another orca, lingering in abysmal conditions that should have been deemed illegal under APHIS regulations. Toki belongs to one of the most well-studied groups of orca, and it is believed that her presumed mother, Ocean Sun (L25), is still alive.
I have advocated for Toki’s return since I was in high school. I helped plan the first Miracle March back in 2015, spoke at the event, and shortly after, released a short film about Toki that screened in film festivals. Toki, and the inspiration of her story, brought me out of a deep depression during this time and helped give me the passion to pursue a degree in Marine Biology to protect the ocean and her wild counterparts. She means the world to me, and I want to make sure that we are focusing on what will TRULY be best for her, not our own agendas.
So, what is this big announcement? On March 30th, the Miami Seaquarium announced in collaboration with Friends for Lolita (co-founded by Pritam Singh) that they will be working towards returning Toki to an ocean sanctuary in her home waters of the Salish Sea, where her wild family and presumed mother reside. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is helping to fund this initiative. They stated that the presumed timeline for this plan is 18 to 24 months.
The full press announcement by the Miami Seaquarium, Jim Irsay, and Friends of Lolita.
I am excited and hopeful about this announcement. As Dr. Naomi Rose shared, for the first time ever, there is a possibility of a “next” for Toki and not a continued fate of suffering in an inadequate tank without another member of her own species. It is also heartwarming to see so many people from different backgrounds coming together for her welfare – a prime demonstration that humanity is still capable of good when we unite for the right reasons. While there is dissent on what the best option is, the vast majority agree that her current conditions are not suitable – and that alone is a huge accomplishment considering where the fence-line was when I first began this journey.
However, I am also worried that this will be another false hope - another plan marred by ego and people working for the wrong reasons. I have also seen many take advantage of Toki’s plight as a way to jump to fame and “have the microphone.” After how hard all of us have worked, and more importantly after all that Toki has endured, she deserves BETTER than being used as a pawn at every step. We need to put our egos aside and come together to respectfully discuss what is best for Toki – and move towards THAT instead of our need to be right.
There is just cause to be skeptical of the announcement. Is the Miami Seaquarium simply doing this and going through the motions to absolve themselves of bad publicity once Toki dies, or is it really out of a newfound care for her welfare? Is Pritam Singh jumping on the bandwagon for good publicity after allegedly tearing Sea Shepherd apart from the inside out and having the organization support the fisheries they are supposedly fighting against and holding accountable? Are Jim Irsay's motives truly about Toki's release like he's stated, or also just for good press? Their true intent remains to be seen, but their actions in the coming months will reveal it.
As much as there is reason to be wary of the plans, and of those directly involved, Toki deserves the chance after all that she has endured. We cannot throw it out of the window simply because our egos and fear are getting in the way. We need to be cautious and make sure that this is being done for the right reason – Toki’s welfare. However, Toki continues to suffer and languish in her current conditions. We need to move forward for her.
Our duty now is to be advocates FOR Toki, to remind the Miami Seaquarium and all involved that this is about Toki and her story, about what is best FOR HER and her family, and that those involved will be embraced by making the right choices or held accountable should they fail her yet again.
Many believe that Toki should be moved to SeaWorld or another enclosure instead of a sea sanctuary or being freed fully. It is important to do our due diligence in considering this, and examining every report and source of data, in pursuit of what is best for her. I would potentially be open to moving her to SeaWorld while the plans for her retirement are in the works so that she does not linger in the poor conditions at the Miami Seaquarium that have continually rendered her ill. Additionally, should the plan to release her fail to jump through the legal hoops, she would at the very least have a better enclosure. However, I do not agree with it being the ideal outcome. Captivity is still a stressful existence for these animals, and lingering in a concrete tank is not what I see as the best possible outcome for her welfare. Continuing to explore these discussions is important and I welcome it, so please comment if you think differently!
There is a lot more to cover, and I look forward to doing so in the following posts. The next one will focus on Toki’s history in more detail and why she deserves a better outcome (the ‘why are we here?’ post). After that, I will discuss what is currently known about Toki’s retirement plans and start weighing the opinions and facts of what people think the best possible outcome should be. If there is anything else that you would like me to write about, please let me know!
Discussion is strongly encouraged in the comments – but please keep it respectful. Do not bash or argue with those who have different viewpoints than you – we need to come together and learn from each other to give Toki the best outcome possible. Any comments that serve to stagnate collaborative discussion or to berate others will be deleted without hesitation – my page is an open and safe space to have these discussions and I will actively protect it. It is important to remember we all come from different starting points in our fight to help Toki and all orca.
Thank you for being with me – and with Toki – on this journey.
Zach Affolter is a passionate aspiring marine biologist and animal/environmental advocate.