- Tokitae the orca, also called Lolita, spent more than 50 years in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium.
- This year, animal rights groups convinced the Seaquarium to return the whale to her home waters.
- Tokitae died Friday of acute renal failure, before she could be freed.
Earlier this year, the Miami Seaquarium partnered with animal rights groups to create a plan for Tokitae, a 57-year-old orca, to be returned to her home waters after more than 50 years in captivity in the world’s smallest orca enclosure.
Tragically, Toki never made it home.
The beloved orca, also known by her stage name Lolita and Lummi name Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut died Friday of acute renal failure, representatives for Orca Network told Insider.
Representatives for the Seaquarium did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment but confirmed the news through a social media post, saying: “Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story and especially to the Lummi nation that considered her family. Those who have had the privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit.”
Tokitae was “surrounded by her loving care team and veterinarians, who did everything they could to save her after a very short illness,” representatives for Orca Network said in a statement. “She developed a gastrointestinal issue two days ago for which she was receiving treatment, and then today suddenly developed acute renal failure and could not be saved despite the best efforts of the veterinary team.”
The long-term captivity of Tokitae had been the subject of mass protests and media attention as animal rights groups advocated for her release back into the wild with the L-pod of orcas. The L-pod, the largest of the three pods in the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, is still believed to include Toki’s 95-year-old mother, called L25 or Ocean Sun.
Insider previously reported Toki would receive round-the-clock care until her release could be facilitated within the next 18 to 24 months. Having spent her years in close confinement, much of it in an enclosure measuring 80 feet by 35 feet, Toki struggled off and on for years with her health.
Toki was the second-oldest orca whale in captivity, surpassed only by a 58-year-old orca held at SeaWorld San Diego called Corky.
“One thing that brings us comfort is knowing that yesterday, as Toki began struggling and was on her journey home to the next world, her entire family was off the west side of San Juan Island in what these days is a rare gathering, with all three pods swimming up and down the island, socializing in a Superpod; and the L12s are still there today,” the Orca Network statement continued. “This is often a cultural/social ritual to mark a significant event in their community, and we believe they were welcoming her home.”
“Toki is finally home, maybe not the way we wanted,” Orca Network added, “but her family seems to know she is with them once again, in ways we may never comprehend.”