Miami Seaquarium announces plan to bring orca Tokitae back to home waters in Salish Sea

An orca whale that was taken from Puget Sound in the 1970s and has been at the Miami Seaquarium ever since will finally be returning to the Pacific Northwest.

Miami leaders made the announcement Thursday morning.

The whale Tokitae — known as Lolita by the Seaquarium — was captured from the L pod of the Salish Sea’s Southern Resident orcas.

Howard Garrett, a co-founder of the Orca Network, is beyond thrilled by the news.

He’s one of many who has worked tirelessly to free Tokitae ever since she was captured.

“That was in 1970, right here on Whidbey Island in Penn Cove, and she was shipped almost immediately to Miami,” said Garrett.

Miami Mayor Daniella Levine Cava stressed Tokitae has been well taken care of.

“I want to emphasize as long as she has been in our care, she has been cared for,” said Cava.

The orca was featured in shows at the Miami Seaquarium for 52 years until she became ill with an infection last year.

Cava said health assessments have shown she’s improved.

Tokitae is touted as the oldest killer whale living in captivity, Garrett says there will be a transition period before she is free to roam in the wild.

“In her mind she still has that memory, she was about 4 years old, orcas are always very precocious at birth they are very aware,” said Garrett.

Officials are still figuring out how and when Tokitae will return.

KIRO7 Reached out to the Lummi Nation, in a statement they said, “(Tok’tae) has a strong relationship with our homeland and all the natural resources therein. We are happy to hear that our relative, Sk’aliCh’elh’tenaut (Toki’tae), will have the opportunity to return home. She represents the story of all Native peoples that have experienced genocide and the bad policies that have been put in place to ‘kill the Indian and save the man.’ But more importantly, she represents our resilience and strength and our need for healing. She reminds us of the necessity to keep pushing for salmon recovery, habitat restoration, and bringing our children home. We’d like acknowledge Raynell Morris for her relentless effort and love for our relative. And thank you to all people that continue to share their good thoughts and prayers for her return home.”