VIDEO: Alki rally, march urges freedom for Lolita, last surviving captive Puget Sound killer whale

(WSB photos/video by Patrick Sand)
A gathering this afternoon around West Seattle’s replica of a powerful symbol of human freedom was organized in hopes of winning freedom for a fellow mammal held captive thousands of miles away:

Taken from her family and her Puget Sound home more than 40 years ago, the orca known as Lolita (originally Tokitae), a member of L-Pod, has spent all that time in a tank at the Miami Seaquarium. Of the dozens of killer whales captured all those years ago, she is the last survivor. This afternoon’s Alki gathering was in support of a larger rally in Miami, stepping up the pressure for Lolita to be “retired” and returned home.

From Alki Statue of Liberty Plaza, advocates, many with signs, headed on a one-mile march along the beach – here’s our video:

We estimated at least 150 supporters here; estimates a thousand participants at today’s rally there. They heard from Howard Garrett of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network, describing the plan already proposed for reintroducing Lolita to the wild via a sea pen in the San Juans. It’s not new, but there is a potential milestone driving the new attention – a federal ruling expected this month on whether Lolita will be officially included in the listing of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. That would not guarantee freedom for her, but could at least step up the pressure. According to the Miami Herald, the Seaquarium says flatly she’s not for sale and shouldn’t be freed. Meantime, back at Alki, Lolita’s supporters came from all age groups:

Advocates said that other support rallies were planned in San Diego, Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, Germany, and the UK.

11 Replies to "VIDEO: Alki rally, march urges freedom for Lolita, last surviving captive Puget Sound killer whale"

  • Catherine Perrie January 17, 2015 (4:33 pm)

    Great to see such a great turnout for Lolitta who is being held captive She should be with her family Free her

  • pupsarebest January 17, 2015 (5:40 pm)

    Love and concern, dwarfed and overwhelmed by other worthy causes, ignorance, indiffernce and always, $$$$$.
    My heart is with the whales, and thank you to those who joined in the protest today.

  • cj January 17, 2015 (7:17 pm)

    Would a pod adopt her after all this time? Is there an Orca sanctuary for those who have been in captivity for so long? [according to Wiki she was captured in 1970] I want her to be happy too but what would happen to her if she were freed?

  • Terri Mitchell January 17, 2015 (8:10 pm)

    Hi, cj: Because Lolita’s pod is known and her close relatives, some of whom knew her before she was captured, are still alive, there is a very good chance that she will be accepted. She appears to recognize their recorded vocalizations when played to her. Much support and monitoring will be provided before and after she is released, first in a sea pen in her home waters, where her pod still swims, to be sure that she is eating, staying healthy, and adjusting. It is possible that she will be able to be fully released to the wild, but if for some reason, she cannot be, she will have a better life here than she currently has in a small pen with no companionship. One thing is sure, she will NOT just be released into the ocean without help and support.

  • Mike January 17, 2015 (8:10 pm)

    I have similar questions to what cj has. Having seen orcas in captivity at SeaWorld, it’s depressing to know they’re stuck in that environment at all. I guess one way to think about reintroducing these whales is they might die, but they’d die not living in that tiny tank and at least had another opportunity to live in the open waters.

  • moji January 17, 2015 (8:48 pm)

    Thanks for the great coverage, WSB!

  • Kathy January 18, 2015 (10:41 am)

    There’s a good explanation of the transition plan that would be in place if Lolita was freed at this link:

    • WSB January 18, 2015 (10:45 am)

      Thank you – it’s also linked in our story, the line that says “…the plan …”

  • Mike January 18, 2015 (9:26 pm)

    Not sure that “Lolita will be taught how to eat live fish and to follow a boat” is wise. Teaching a whale to follow a boat is equal to teaching a dog to follow a car. They see a car later and they will chase it.
    Like I said before, probably better than the tiny tank, still not really reading a ‘plan’ though.

  • Me January 19, 2015 (10:13 am)

    I hate to see her where she is, she would die.

  • seaopgal January 19, 2015 (2:36 pm)

    Although Orca Network’s “plan” gets the most play, it should really be termed a “proposal” at this point. It helps people to start thinking about how it could be done (and to raise the necessary funds), but it is not the final say on what will or should happen if NOAA determines that Lolita will be given endangered species protection and that it would be better for her to retire from performing. NOAA will take the lead on her future, and it will be a collaborative effort with many different stakeholders involved, state & local governments, tribes, other NGOs, funders, the public. This is the model that led to the successful re-wilding of the Northern Resident orca Springer, and gives me hope for a successful transition for Lolita.

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