On August 8, 1970, in the waters off Washington State, a pod of killer whales was attacked and rounded up by a group of killer whale herders, led by Ted Griffiths and Don Goldsberry. With the help of speedboats and explosives, the orcas were forced into nearby Penn Cove. The infants, who were prime candidates for the captivity industry, were frantic as they were separated from their mothers. Crying human-like screams in vain, the orca mothers refused to leave their children.
According to photographer Wallie Funk, “[the orcas] were trapped in a small area [and were] … flailing in the air.” High-pitched squeals could be heard as the killer whales who had been trapped “[communicated] with many, many more that were outside the net in Penn Cove.”
One adult and four baby killer whales were killed during this capture. The herders, in an attempt to keep the orca deaths from the public, slit open the bellies of the dead animals, filled them with rocks, and sank the creatures with anchors, hoping they would never be discovered.
One of the orca infants captured was a 4-year-old named Tokitae, who was sold to the Miami Seaquarium. She arrived at the marine park on September 24, 1970, where she was renamed ‘Lolita’ and has lived ever since. She performs tricks during her scheduled shows, and has done so for the past forty-one years.
Lolita’s tank that she calls home, as you can see in the photo above, is dreadfully small for an orca—about the size of a hotel swimming pool.
It is now known that killer whales are incredibly intelligent, sentient creatures who, in the wild, are very social. Lolita, being a female, would still be living with her mother today, since resident killer whales like herself usually stay with their mothers their entire lives. She currently lives alone in her tank with no other killer whale companions—only a couple Pacific white-sided dolphins. When not performing in her show, Lolita floats listlessly in her tank all by herself. In the wild, killer whales are capable of swimming hundreds of miles a day and diving as deep as 500 feet. In her tank, however, Lolita spends the day circling a 35-foot-wide area and can only dive to a maximum depth of 20 feet.
Today, Lolita is the oldest living killer whale in captivity.
It has now been 42 years since Tokitae was captured. That’s a long, long time…