The Lolita Come Home Project

Photograph by Kelley Balcomb-Bartok
© 1991


On August 8, 1970, Lolita was swimming with her family pod through Admiralty Inlet on their way to a gathering of all Puget Sound's resident killer whales. Superpod congregations are typically ceremonious for the whales, but it turned out very differently... The entire community of about 85 resident orcas was driven into Penn Cove, Whidbey Island. Four baby whales and a young mother drowned in the capture, and seven very young whales were sold into the entertainment industry. Of at least 45 whales removed or killed during the capture era, only one survives ... alone ... in a Miami marine park.

About a dozen of her family members that survived the captures are still alive and well in the Salish Sea of Washington State and British Columbia. There is an active campaign to reunite Lolita with her home waters and, if possible, with her family. First contact could be by cellular phone / satellite link, then, if she deemed healthy, she could return home to her native waters.

Waiting for Your Help: Lolita

Lolita was born around 1966 - she's believed to be the oldest orca in captivity. Killer whales in captivity tend to die in their youth, but if she comes back to her home waters she could live for many more years in freedom. She has been alone since 1980, when a young male from her community of resident orcas died in the tank with her.

Lolita, first known as Tokitae, is still bobbing listlessly in the oldest, and smallest, whale tank in North America. Whether the tank meets the federal standards is heavily disputed. In April 1996, Lolita's stadium was closed for a long period of time to repair the worst. In November 2005 the park had to close once more after heavy damages during the hurricane season. We believe it is abusive to keep her there. Decades of field research on the Southern Community of resident killer whales, the clan from which Lolita was taken, indicate that she will successfully re-adapt to her home waters, physically and socially. The species' natural condition is to always maintain peak physical conditioning - they swim actively day and night - and in all probability her family will recognize her and will assist her to rejoin them. If for some reason she is unable to return to her family, she will be cared for in perpetuity. She could have a chance to be in her natural habitat again.

"Waiting for Lolita"

There will be coordinated preparations for a temporary rehabilitation seapen in Penn Cove on Whidbey Island. The seapen may become permanently available for rescue and rehabilitation of marine life.

The late Dr. Jesse White, who selected Lolita in 1970, said she was "so courageous, yet so gentle." Her perseverence is remarkable, but how much longer can she survive in isolated confinement? She needs help, now.

The involved projects are seeking further funding to demonstrate to the public and the marine park industry that there are better alternatives than captivity for Lolita. Informational campaigns can be costly, and with the logistics of a return to home waters it all adds up to a large and complex project.

Learn more about The Orcas of the Salish Sea!

Further information about Lolita and the projects can be found on these pages:

Orca Network

Friends of Toki

Get to know some Orca Facts, Stories and Books

Visit my first adoption whale Elwha

Take a look at Orcas in Captivity

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