Seaquarium Orcas’ Northwest Origins

May 24, 2022

The famous orca of the Seaquarium, Lolita, has not always been a star. 

Her origins date back to the Salish Sea outside of Washington State. She lived in a pod of 80 orca whales and was separated from the pod in the 1960s. Soon after, Lolita was sold to the Miami Seaquarium. 

The capture of Lolita, originally named Tokitae by the Lummi Nation indigenous people, marked the start of the decline of the orca population. According to thesalishseaschool.org, “The captures in the 70s, (targeting the smaller females and babies), were the beginning of their decline into endangered status. As one might guess, the remaining gene pool drops in diversity with each additional whale lost.” 

The remaining survivors of her pod are now located in the Salish Sea Whale Sanctuary. During Lolita’s capture, several whales were killed. Lolita survived the unfortunate events, however, she spent the rest of her time (for now) in captivity at the Seaquarium. Her original home was open and free, keeping her out of any boundaries. 

Lolita was not alone in the tank. Hugo was a whale captured from Vaughn Bay in Washington state. According to dolphinproject.com, the website of the Seaquarium’s new owners as of 2022, Lolita and Hugo were put together in a tank where they performed daily shows for visitors. After 12 years, Hugo did not adjust to captivity and bashed his head against the wall of the tank. This caused a fatal brain aneurysm, and Lolita was left in the tank by herself to continue performing. 

Lolita was originally under the ownership of the Lummi Nation from her original home. According to earthlawcenter.org, “in 1855, the Lummi Nation signed the Treaty of Point Elliott with the United States, which assured these Native American tribes would have hunting and fishing rights and reservations.”

This gave them the right to protect the orcas in the area including Lolita. They also gave her the name Tokitae, which means “our relations who live under the sea.” Today, animal rights activists and members of the Lummi Nation are calling for Lolita’s potential return to her native habitat.

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