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The Story of Orca Lolita

Meet Tokitae ( Lolita)

Tokitae, also called Lolita as her stage name and named Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut by Washington State’s Lummi Nation, belongs to the population of Southern Resident orcas. She was snatched from her family and her natural habitat in 1970 during the notorious Penn Cove captures. Since then, she has been kept at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida. 

The Southern Residents are an endangered orca population living on the west coast of the United States and Canada. The critical condition of the community is also due to the trapping operations at Penn Cove. In August 1970 alone, 80 individuals were rounded up there, seven of them were taken into captivity and at least five more died in the capture operations.


Last survivor

A young female orca was brought to the Miami Seaquarium after the capture operation on August 8, 1970 and kept in a small concrete tank with the male orca Hugo, who was already there. Hugo was captured in 1968 and, as it later turned out, belonged to the same orca clan as Lolita. Hugo died of a brain aneurysm in 1980. He repeatedly banged his head against the pool wall. Of the 45 orcas the Southern Residents caught between 1965 and 1973, only Lolita is alive today. In 2005, the Southern Residents were recognized as an endangered species and have since been protected under the US Endangered Species Act. It was not until 2015 that Lolita, who was held captive, was officially granted this status .


three names

Before she was brought to the Miami Seaquarium, the young female orca was given the name "Tokitae" by a veterinarian. It means "beautiful day, beautiful colors" in one of the indigenous languages ​​of the region where it was caught. She was nicknamed "Lolita" for the shows at the Miami Seaquarium. However, the trainers and employees still call them Tokitae or Toki for short.

She got her third name "Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut" from the Lummi tribe, who regard the Southern Resident orcas as their "relatives and ancestors in the water".

  • Tokitae was born in 1966

  • Tokitae has been in captivity since 1970.

  • Tokitae is the second longest surviving orca in captivity.

Lolita © Rob Lott
Lolita © Rob Lott

For more than 50 years, Lolita has been kept in a tank that is only six meters at its deepest point and 24 meters at its longest. These dimensions do not even correspond to the specifications of the US authorities.

In the wild, Lolita would spend her days with her family, foraging, playing, and resting, often traveling more than 100 kilometers. Her mother has probably traveled around 5.6 million kilometers in her habitat on the west coast of the USA and Canada and is probably around 93 years old today.

Alerting report

Since the death of her companion Hugo, Lolita has been kept without any other members of her species. She shared a tank with several dolphins, most recently with a white-striped dolphin named Lii. In 2021, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) published an alarming report on husbandry conditions at the Miami Seaquarium, where deficiencies such as dirty water, poor food, and broken equipment were documented. In addition, action was taken several times contrary to veterinary instructions. For example, Lolita's trainer paid no attention to her jaw injury and let her perform jumps that the veterinarian at the time had explicitly advised against. In addition, there is a shortage of staff, which causes inadequate maintenance and poor bookkeeping.One of the consequences of this is that dolphins that encounter each other with aggressive behavior are kept together. This has already led to incidents in which dolphins have been injured and even killed.


2022: No more shows with an audience

The new owner of the Miami Seaquarium, "The Dolphin Company" from Mexico, still gets a license to operate the park, but Lolita and Delfin Lii can no longer be presented to a paying audience in entertainment shows. More than 20 other dolphins are kept in the park. However, the show ban does not apply to them. In March 2022 , the new management, together with representatives of the responsible authorities, announced at a press conference that Lolita can be subjected to an independent medical examination and a good solution for her future is being sought. Also present were representatives of the NGO coalition "Friends of Lolita", who are committed to Lolita's return to her home waters.

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