We at Orca Network and many many others are alarmed to see Hurricane Irma barrelling toward South Florida with a high probability of slamming into Miami Saturday and Sunday, 200 miles wide with winds 150 mph, or more. The Florida peninsula is only 140 miles wide and the central track of most models as of Thursday afternoon is straight up the middle of the state or veering toward Miami.
There is still a slight possibility that the eye will pass over ocean water east of Miami, moderating its ferocity, but virtually every potential track brings extremely destructive winds over Miami, and therefore over the Miami Seaquarium and the Whale Stadium.
In the midst of massive destruction throughout Florida by the biggest hurricane to ever collide with the continental United States, Lolita/Tokitae has no choice but to try to survive through life-threatening winds, driving rains, and tidal surge churning all around her for many hours. Moving her requires weeks of preparation so isn't a possibility. We're seeing a worst case scenario in action, with extremely warm ocean temperatures whipping up a monster storm that is encountering very few land masses in its approach to Florida. Irma will hit Florida at near full strength, and most models show the most destructive NE quadrant of the storm may charge into Miami and continue up the eastern coastline. So there is plenty for everybody to worry about at this point and our hearts go out to everyone in the path of the storm. Hopefully Lolita/Tokitae is also considered before during and after it passes. She is especially exposed to any weather conditions and can't go anywhere unfortunately.
As of Thursday evening there are probably about 36 hours of calm weather in Miami to make the best possible preparations. At Seaquarium this may include sandbag walls around the whale stadium and other tanks, securing roofs and other potential flying debris with cables or other means, especially the whale stadium roof, as well as securing every possible loose object. This needs to be done by the management as there is no agency tasked with overseeing that preparation. An emergency contingency plan is required by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, but APHIS has neglected to enforce Animal Welfare Act Emergency Contingency Plan requirements. The management has said they have such a plan in the past, but have never shown it publicly. APHIS can't be expected to have a crisis team available to oversee the company's response to the hurricane. The Seaquarium is not answering questions from media or concerned callers, so we can only hope they are doing everything possible to avoid dangers to Tokitae and all the dolphins and other marine life at great risk.
The bright spotlight of public and media attention will hopefully get the management to do the best possible job. We can only hope that the employees are well trained, well led and well paid to lock down the Seaquarium, anticipate problems, and be ready for emergencies. Please everybody post any news on the Orca Network Lolita/Tokitae facebook page
or email email@example.com.
We are very concerned about flying debris from all over the park hitting Toki, including the stadium roof that could twist in the wind and blow into the tank. Backup generators, if those are functional after the storm, can operate the water pumps and filtration, and the refrigeration system to keep the water cool. Without clean, cool water Toki will suffer even more until those systems are restored.
A widening community is very concerned about her and have been contacting the Seaquarium and media of all sorts to find out what the plans or preparation are to protect Toki and all the dolphins and other marine life at the park. Some have been told that there would be two personnel remaining at the park throughout the storm. The damage may be beyond their ability to clean up but they should hopefully be able to communicate the situation shortly after the storm.
The Mayor of Key Biscayne was interviewed saying she is worried about the structural integrity of the Rickenbacker Causeway bridges that also provide the only road access to the Seaquarium, which could further delay emergency help after the storm.
For more information please call Palace Entertainment at 1-949-261-0404 and Miami Seaquarium at 1 305-361-5705 X512.
In any case this will be a severely stressful time for her. No humans can remain with her during the worst of the storm, so as the winds rise to hurricane force she will be left alone in the tank, as the world around her howls and roars and shakes like an earthquake. She will be in great danger for her survival, and the traumas she will endure even in the best case could be extreme.
This disaster, if she survives, could wake up the leaders of Florida and elsewhere to demand that she be returned to her home.
Toki should have been brought home decades ago, and this looming tragedy is the predictable consequence of leaving her there. It's more important than ever to build support and awareness of the safety and viability of the Orca Network Retirement plan for Tokitae
, which is the only possible proposal that could rescue her from death by captivity. Prominent scientists and activists are needed to publicly support and endorse this plan, to build confidence in the plan by other decision-makers who rely on those more familiar with the natural history of orcas and the history of reintroduction efforts.
My recommendation, if Tokitae survives this weekend, is for everyone to begin asking prominent people in the scientific and advocacy communities to speak up in support of her retirement to the San Juan Islands, where she was born and raised. Before the owners of the Seaquarium and leaders in Florida will confidently support moving her home they will have be sure the transport plan, seapen location and rehabilitation protocols are safe and sound and offer Toki a chance to rebuild her health and stamina, and have the chance to rejoin her family. Please help build that awareness.