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The Penn Cove orca captures

On August 8th, 1970, more than 80 orcas were rounded up and herded into nets in Penn Cove, Washington.  Seven of these orcas, likely from the the Southern Resident community, were taken into captivity, including Tokitae.

This video is original and shocking footage of this notorious event, known as the Penn Cove orca captures.  Five orcas drowned, their bodies sunk to avoid detection.  The footage in the video is disturbing, but depicts the brutal, extremely stressful, and haphazard methods utilized in capturing orcas from the wild. The special also features the first-ever interview with diver John Crowe, who worked on the Penn Cove capture. He also was in charge of secretly disposing of the carcasses of the drowned orcas, to avoid them being counted in the total numbers taken during the capture. The ones that survived were cheaply sold to marine parks all over the world.

Tokitae is the only survivor from the Penn Cove captures and continues to be held at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida. Her family is the L25 matriline of the L pod of the Southern Resident orca community. Tokitae's mother is believed to be L25, Ocean Sun (estimated birth year 1928), who still swims freely in the open waters of the Pacific Northwest.  To this day, Tokitae continues to use the calls that are unique to L pod.

Though she is called by her stage name, "Lolita," in captivity, we call her Tokitae, which means "nice day, pretty colors" in the Chinook dialect of her home.  In 2019, Tokitae was also given the name Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut by the Lummi Nation of Washington State, a native community with a deep connection to the Southern Resident orcas.

Every year on August 8th, we remember Tokitae and all the orcas lost to captivity as we work to end this horrific issue.

Orca captured at Penn Cove

Photograph courtesy of: Wallie V. Funk Photographs, Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham WA 98225-9123

Penn Cove facts

  • Over 80 orcas were rounded up with boats, planes, and explosives, including members of all 3 Southern Resident pods

  • Five orcas drowned in the nets

  • The orcas who were killed were sunk to avoid being counted

  • Southern Resident orcas are now listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act

  • Tokitae is the sole survivor of this horrific event - all the other orcas taken from Penn Cove died within five years

From the Emmy Award‐winning syndicated special, Baby Wild Films Presents: The Killer Whale People, produced, written and edited by Michael Harris, with original music by Tim Truman. Hosted and narrated by Heart’s Nancy Wilson. For information, contact michael@babywildfilms.com. Thank you to Baby Wild Films for providing us with permission to share this video.

In 2005, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) designated the Southern Resident orcas as an endangered species under the US Endangered Species Act. On February 4, 2015, Tokitae was officially included in the endangered listing of the Southern Resident orca Distinct Population Segment (DPS) by NMFS. Tokitae is the last surviving individual of at least 47 members of the Southern Resident community that were captured and delivered for display in marine parks or died in these efforts between 1962 and 1977.  Only Corky, a member of the Northern Resident orca community captured in 1969, who still lives at Sea World in San Diego, has been in captivity longer.

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