Lies of the Seaquarium: Tokitae’s Story

     Tokitae was captured in August of 1970. She was swimming with her family to an annual gathering of orcas that took place every year off the coast of Washington state. She would never make it. Instead, the pod of 100 orcas were chased, swimming from the deafening sound of explosives and speed boats. They were separated in the waterways of Puget Sound. Babies taken from their mothers, entire family groups were severed.
     7 attractive whales were taken that day. John Crowe was there helping with the capture.

“My job along with another guy was to get her in the stretcher and that was the bad part because that (Tokitae) was our last whale. So as soon as we left with her they started breaking down the rest of the outfit and they released them then. But they didn’t leave. They came right over to the beach. And they just kind of milled about there.
And they were communicating back and forth with the squeaks and shrieks that they do, and they call it spy-hopping now when a whale sticks his head up. They were doing that.
I kind of broke down and started crying. I kept working but it was really too much for me to deal with at that point. So we kept going on anyway and got the whale loaded and they picked it up. And the instant that whale cleared the water where the sound, I suppose didn’t transmit any more, the whole rest of the pod of whales that were there Just gave a big sigh and swam off. And that was the end of that.” ~John Crowe

During the capture 4 baby orcas drowned, and were hidden from the public eye. Lolita’s captors- Ted Griffin and Don Goldsberry, showed no remorse for the captures and today admit that whales often died in the capture, and that they always made efforts to hide the deaths from the public. Don Goldsberry was put in charge of animal collections at Seaworld. The captured whales were then sold around the world. This was not the only Puget Sound capture. Over the years, 58 whales have been captured from the area, totally depleting the Southern Resident orca Community. They are now critically endangered. Tokitae was only 6 years old when she was sold. In September, Miami had an all new attraction.

     Today, Tokitae is known by her stage name as Lolita. She is now 47 years old, and the star of the Miami Seaquarium. Her tank is the oldest, and smallest killer whale tank in the world. The Seaquarium has publically announced several times, that they have models and plans for a new tank, but they have never acted on those plans.

    Upon arrival at Miami Seaquarium, Tokitae shared her tank with another orca named Hugo. Hugo died of suspected suicide. Orcas are not compulsory air breathers like humans, which means that they have the ability to close their airways, and never breathe again.

     Every day, for 4 decades, Tokitae has put on 2-3 shows in her featurless, concrete tank. That is more than 35,000 shows in her lifetime. She has earned the Miami Seaquarium hundreds of millions of dollars. Like all artificial dolphin and whale tanks- her enviroment will never change. She was taken from the ever changing complexity of the ever moving ocean, into the stagnate water of a tank not much bigger than a hotel swimming pool. She was taken from her close-knit family, to a life of lonliness. 

         Calls have been made across the world to free Tokitae. Nobody has answered those calls. Because Tokitae has lived in captivity for so long, many people feel as though she would never make it in the wild.
     Killer whales have amazing memories. Tokitae lived 7 years in the wild. Her teeth and physical health seem to be in relatively good shape, and scientists have located her family. They have prepared a sea pen in her native waters off the coast of Washington state. Ready for her rehabilitation, so she can once again feel the waves of the ocean, and hear the sounds of her family. Once again, she can have that contact with her own species- something that is vital to the killer whale’s lifestyle.

     It is past time to retire Tokitae, but whales and dolphins are seen as commodities, and for a businesses, that means getting the most out of them as you can. In other words- work the whales until they are dead, and then simply go out and buy another. As long as Tokitae is captive she will generate money, and that is why the owners of Miami Seaquarium promote the idea that she could never retire, or live in the wild.

On Miami Seaquarium’s website, these words can be read: “She (Tokitae) also plays an important role in educating the public about the need to conserve killer whales that populate our northwestern shores.” 
     For those who know Tokitae’s history, it is strange to contemplate the fact that the aquarium bought her after she was brutally captured from the northwestern – and want to teach YOU the opposite! They want to teach you to conserve Lolita’s species, and to have respect for nature.

     The system is broken, it is an endless cycle. Let’s finally put a stop to the cycle, and propose the idea of retiring working animals. Let’s stop patronizing them, exploiting them…and give whales and dolphins the break they deserve. Whales and dolphins like Tokitae. Let’s give her a happy ending. As long as there is a chance for her to live a life of freedom, we should never give up.

You can help by going directly to the source of this problem: Miami Seaquarium.

WRITE THEM:                                 

  4400 Rickenbacker Causeway 
  Key Biscayne, FL 33149

CALL THEM:                                                305-361-5705

EMAIL THEM*:          

*should you choose to visit the website, you may notice the Dolphin Harbor, swim with dolphins program. Instead of building Lolita a new tank, as planned, the owners of Miami Seaquarium, built Dolphin Harbor instead to make money off the swim with dolphins craze.


11 thoughts on “Lies of the Seaquarium: Tokitae’s Story

  1. I live in England and have been to the seaworld parks many times, I have never been to your park in Miami and I have no intention to. Keeping these magnificent creatures in these tiny tanks is nothing but completely cruel, I have also reasurched that your pool is the smallest of all killer whale tanks. I bet your poor orca loves performing day in day out in an area which is less than 1% of her natural habitat. You don’t realise how much extra space that killer whale needs. Please please please think about the whale and less about the money you make. Would you like it if someone took your baby away never to be seen again and then realised it was Being used for entertainment, it just doesn’t happen in human life, it shouldn’t happen in a killer whales life.

  2. Just posted this on my site, but the Washington State Transportation Commission has decided to name one of two new ferries the Tokitae! I’m sharing this with others who advocate for captive orcas and found your blog during a search.

  3. Hi, I totally agree w/Lolita Lover. My parents took me to see “Shamu” in the 80s with my brother and sister. It was a very big deal and a major special treat. My parents are nature lovers and thought it would be good to see the animals and expose us to the “natural sea world” while in FL. I don’t blame my parents, they were just doing what they thought was best–trying to educate us and give us an appreciation for marine mammels. After you realize the truth of what’s really going on you just change your mind about Sea World and make different choices. After learning and studying for the last year or so about the captivity industry, I know for sure that I will NEVER take my children to Sea World. My children will learn more about orcas watching the Discovery Channel than going to a hyped-up “show”! I will keep doing my little part and someday the tipping point will have arrived and the industry will completely collapse.

  4. @Lesley Williams:

    Don’t feel ashamed. I saw Lolita at MSQ in the 1970s when she and I were both in our teens. Back then people neither knew that much about SRKWs nor the ill effects of captivity on cetaceans but now we know or should know.

    However the MSQ does not incorporate findings from any contemporary scientific research on SRKWs or cetacean captivity in its so-called education program. This is evident if you compare its current program with that from 40 years ago. As a result the MSQ has betrayed the public trust. The mis-education campaign (which is designed to protect its commercial interests in her) is the very reason why the government must intervene and revoke the MSQ’s ability to continue “holding” her.

  5. Very well written, CetaceanInspiration!

    I would suggest that the U.S. government is a better “target” than the MSQ. The government has failed to protect her rights as a SRKW under its own ESA. She is only held by MSQ in the “public trust” and the government has done nothing to address the fact that MSQ has violated this trust through its continued public mis-education program.

  6. Ashamed to say I visited SeaWorld in the 80’s, realise now that was done in complete ignorance of their needs and being aware of their terrible lifestyle when living in captivity. This industry needs to be held accountable for the suffering they cause to dolphins and orcas. Will share this on Facebook but realise that lots of people will not want to know the facts. Never ever thought how do any aquarium stock their tanks, this must be made more public and not stop until everyone faces the truth.

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