Toki, a Southern Resident Killer Whale, is the only orca that was caught in U.S. waters still in captivity and is one of the two oldest orcas in captivity. She has lived at the Miami Seaquarium (MSQ) in the same pool for more than 50 years.
She is estimated to have been born between 1966 and 1967. She was captured in Penn Cove in the waters off the Pacific Northwest on August 08, 1970. Dr. Jesse White, the veterinarian working at MSQ at the time, was sent to Washington to choose a young female Orca and he chose Toki. He described her as “so courageous, yet so gentle” and he was the first to call her Tokitae, which means “Nice Day, Pretty Colors” in a Coast Salish language. She was transported to MSQ on September 24, 1970, to become the companion for Hugo, the male orca who was already at MSQ. It was later found out that Hugo was also a Southern Resident Killer Whale. Shortly after her arrival, MSQ gave her the name of “Lolita” which became her widely known name since the beginning of her public display and performances. She is also known by the name of Sk’ali’Ch’elh-tenaut (pronounced SKA-li-CHUKH-teNOT) given to her by the late hereditary Chief Tsi’li’xw of the Lummi Nation.
For almost ten years Toki and Hugo shared the small tank at MSQ until he passed away in 1980. Of the approximately 58 orcas taken from Puget Sound in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Toki is the only survivor. Since Hugo’s passing, Toki has had many tank mates to include Risso’s Dolphins, a Common Dolphin, a Long-Finned Pilot Whale, and Pacific White Sided Dolphins. She currently shares her tank with Lii, a Pacific White Sided Dolphin. Toki is still today described as kind and gentle, just as she was by Dr. White when he first met her.
Toki performed daily shows at MSQ for 52 years, entertaining probably more than 10 million guests, becoming one of the most well-known orcas in the world. In the Fall of 2021, the whale stadium was closed to make repairs. The whale stadium remains closed to the public to this day as it, and Toki, were not included in the public exhibit license granted to MSQ upon their purchase of the park in March of 2022.
Toki was reported to be in ill health and reports issued in 2021 and early 2022 suggested that she was gravely ill. Shortly after the purchase, Friends of Toki initiated conversations with Eduardo Albor, the CEO of The Dolphin Company offering to bring in independent veterinarians to visit MSQ to assess, consult and publicly report on the health and welfare of Toki.
With the unprecedented support of Eduardo Albor and The Dolphin Company, as well as Miami-Dade County Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, what began as an effort to bring independent veterinarians to assess Toki’s health and bring transparency to her condition, has grown into a full collaboration between Friends of Toki and The Dolphin Company. With investments by Friends of Toki founder Pritam Singh of over $1 million and her care team, enrichment specialists, veterinarians and support team numbering more than 15 people, this collaboration now encompasses all aspects of Toki’s quality of life including her life support systems and water quality, her enrichment program, her medical care, and the animal care staff working with her daily. Toki’s care requires ongoing investments of over $200,000 per month and with the generosity of Jim Irsay her current and future care and all that it entails are assured.
On March 30, 2023, in a joint press conference with Miami-Dade County Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, Friends of Toki and The Dolphin Company announced:
“For the first time ever, a private company with marine mammals under human care and an animal welfare organization, create a legally binding agreement with one goal – bring the opportunity to return Lolita, the sole killer whale at Miami Seaquarium, to her home waters – with all of these efforts supported by the generous financial contribution from a leading philanthropist, Mr. Jim Irsay.”