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Orca Activists Mark 50 Years Since Miami Seaquarium’s Lolita Capture

Missing Northwest Orca
File – In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, a female resident orca whale breaches while swimming in Puget Sound near Bainbridge Island, Wash., as seen from a federally permitted research vessel. The Center for Whale Research says a endangered large male orca is missing and presumed dead. The whale, known L41, was not with his family when researchers encountered them last week. L41’s death would leave just 72 animals in the “southern resident” population of orcas that frequents the waters between Washington and Canada. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Orca activists in Washington State on Saturday held a three-hour Zoom gathering in order to mark the 50th anniversary of Miami Seaquarium killer whale Lolita’s capture.

Lolita, who had been named Tokitae by Native Americans, was estimated to be four years old on Aug. 8, 1970, when her captors in planes and boats used explosives to round up her family pod in the shallow waters of Penn Cove in Puget Sound, northwest of Seattle.

The orcas were encircled with nets, at which point the men used sticks to separate the youngest orcas from their mothers.

Five of the orcas drowned in the process, while a total of six other young orcas, including Lolita, were taken.

It is believed that during the 1960s and 1970s, roughly four dozen South Resident orcas were captured and sold to marine parks.

Washington State outlawed the capture and trade of orcas in its waters in 1976.

Lolita is the only captured Southern Resident orca that is still alive.

“It’s momentous, it’s amazing that she is still there, still alive,” says Howard Garrett, co-founder of Orca Network.

He acknowledges that Lolita looks healthy, but has been trying to repatriate Lolita to her home waters in the Pacific Northwest. To that end, Garrett reiterates his call for Lolita’s release from the Seaquarium.

“It makes us angry, it makes us sad,” Garrett says after seeing images of Lolita in a small tank at the Seaquarium. “It just makes us want to bring her home.”

Orca Network executive director Susan Berta explains that the group has been holding vigils to mark Lolita’s capture for decades.

“Of course, this year is different,” she says, adding that the virtual event allowed more people to participate.

Among those who appeared in the video were Native Americans from the Lummi nation. They hold orcas sacred and are calling for the the release and return of Tokitae to her home aters.

However, the Seaquarium says Lolita is best cared for in their hands.

In an email to The Seattle Times last week, curator emeritus Robert Rose said the care Lolita has received at the Seaquarium for five decades is a “testament to the excellent care she receives daily from our animal and veterinary care staff.”

Rose said relocating Lolita to the Pacific Northwest could endanger her. He also advised the activists to concern themselves with the addressing the plight of the critically endangered Southern Residents.