‘She came home not physically but spiritually’: Orca Tokitae’s death sends powerful message

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. — Southern Resident Orca Tokitae’s tragic ending is still sending ripples of grief to those who followed her story.

The 57-year-old orca died suddenly on Aug. 18. Before her death there were plans to release the orca back into her home waters before Thanksgiving.

An installation ceremony was also already scheduled for Sunday at Friday Harbor to install a story pole in honor of Tokitae. The ceremony then took a somber shift, as the story pole is now the center of a celebration of life ceremony to honor the orca. The mourners also said they’re going to keep fighting for the members of her family still swimming the western coast waters.

“We’ve been feeling it with all of oy the sense of confusion of what happened and why did it happen and wanting these answers to so many questions we had,” said Lummi Nation Chairman, Anthony Hillaire.

Those feelings of grief and sadness are still being felt by those who worked and hoped to see Tokitae back in her home waters.

“She’s coming home. Maybe not the way we wanted her, but she will be swimming with her family again in spirit,” said one of the people speaking at the ceremony.

Tokitae began to show signs she was sick the Wednesday before she passed. Tribal members say her pod mates still came to welcome her home.

“The gathering of the orcas that were out here the very day she died. She came home not physically but spiritually,” he said.

Now the people gathering could only share memories of her instead of hopes for her future.

“I haven’t seen her for a while and when I sang to her she did the same thing. she went out in the middle of the tank, and she went down and she came up went up in the air like that. The caretaker said she knew you, she knows the connection between you and her and she was happy to see you and hear you sing to her,” said one woman.

The people mourning her loss also said while Tokitae is gone, the message of conservation still lives on.

“She opened up the ability to tell that story and the fact that was once a great river on this west coast, we’ve turned into a lake for our own benefit. Things are happening at a very fast pace on our watch. we have to think about this youth and the future generations,” she said.

Tokitae’s remains will be returned to the Lummi Nation. She will be cremated and laid to rest in a private cultural ceremony. A date for when that will happen still hasn’t been set.