A Puget Sound Orca in Captivity
The Fight to Bring Lolita Home
I refer to the recently published article by Jenna Deedy in PetLife titled Freeing Lolita the Killer Whale is Not an Option, and take issue with a number of matters.
I note the rather coy reference to Lolita as having been "collected." Let's not dress this up... Tokitae (that is her correct name) was violently captured and torn from her family, as were all the other orcas stolen from their home during the Washington State/British Columbia capture era, 1964-1976—a tragic period of appalling cruelty and greed—which took a third of the now critically endangered Southern Resident population. As the author of Puget Sound Whales for Sale: The Fight to End Orca Hunting, after being taken to the Seattle Marine Aquarium, I know a "seven-day course of antibiotics was administered... to offset the risk of infection from 'the myriad of scrapes and cuts received before and during capture'" (ref. George W. Klontz, M.S., D.V.M., "Medical Care of Newly Captured Killer Whales," Southwestern Veterinarian Journal, summer 1970). Geoff Schaaf's documentary trailer, which accompanied the recent Tokitae Totem Pole journey by members of the Lummi Nation to Miami to "Bring Lolita Home" to the Salish Sea, includes graphic footage of the 1971 Penn Cove capture. (The orca cowboys were back in Penn Cove capturing whales again a year after Lolita was captured on August 8, 1970, when four calves and a mother died.)
There is no doubt that the dynamics of the SRKW's have changed, in large part due to those captures, which took a whole breeding generation of young whales. This was one of the reasons NMFS listed the whales as endangered in 2005 viz: "The capture of killer whales for public display during the 1970s likely depressed their population size and altered the population characteristics sufficiently to severely affect their reproduction and persistence."
Tokitae is NOT 20 feet WIDE! Southern Resident females range between 17 and 21 feet LONG: Tokitae is about 20 feet long, the same depth as the Miami Seaquarium tank.
While Ms Deedy asserts that the tank is not illegal, she is obviously unaware that, following censure by the Marine Mammal Commission, a report released by the USDA Office of the Inspector General in June 2017 found that the tank may NOT be in compliance with the AWA (Animal Welfare Act). See Orca Network's website under the header "Lolita" for details.
As for the claim that Tokitae exhibits "natural behaviors," these are merely a facsimile of natural behaviors conducted by her family in their natural habitat. I wonder if Ms. Deedy has ever seen whales in the wild? Tokitae performs circus tricks for food while they tail-slap when stunning fish, breach, cartwheel, and back-flip to please themselves—not on cue for trainers and an audience.
Tokitae exhibits stereotypical behaviors i.e. head-bobbing and surfacing at the same spot, although I see no mention of these aberrations in Ms. Deedy's biased and factually incorrect article. I suggest she and others read the expert witness depositions of New Zealand orca researcher Dr. Ingrid N. Visser, former senior SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove, veterinarian Dr. Pedro Javier Gallego Reyes and Dr. Maddalena Bearzi, all of which can be found on Orca Network's website (link as above) in relation to the case brought under the ESA (Endangered Species Act).
Ms. Deedy has the audacity to claim that, were Tokitae to be retired to a sea-pen, it would be "run by those with little to no expertise in animal care." Obviously, she is unaware that there are almost more orca researchers and scientists, including the Center for Whale Research based on San Juan Island (close to Orcas Island, the locale of the proposed sea-pen) who have studied and researched these whales since 1976, than there are Southern Residents!
Pacific White-Sided Dolphins (known as Lags) are NOT compatible with orcas. Orcas stay in their family groups for life, and there is no known case of an orca living with a Lag in the wild. The Lags in the tank with Tokitae constantly rake and bite her (again, see expert witness depositions on Orca Network's website).
Also on that website are the full details of the proposed retirement/rehabilitation/release plan meticulously contrived in 1995 by Kenneth C. Balcomb III, Executive Director and Principal Investigator, Center for Whale Research, when he was involved in the Keiko project, which despite Ms Deedy's claim to the contrary was not a failure.
I have a new book coming out in January 2019 titled A Puget Sound Orca in Captivity: The Fight to Bring Lolita Home, and sincerely hope that Ms Deedy will take the time to acquaint herself with the true facts surrounding Tokitae's life before expounding the many inaccuracies exhibited in her bigoted article.
Sandra Pollard (Certified Marine Naturalist)
Author of Puget Sound Whales for Sale: The Fight to End Orca Hunting (The History Press)