Apologies are due for the absence of Updates. A series of transitions in the past two months have made it difficult to send anything out on the Free Lolita list. In early September Tokitae board members and campaign supporters met in Washington to assess future plans. Toward the end of that trip my hard drive slipped its bearings (clunk-clunk) as you were informed via Free Lolita Update #18, written by Susan Berta and graciously sent out by Mike Green of Rockisland Communications.
In that Update you heard about Tweak, the 5 or 6 month-old orca from Lolita's family who became an orphan when its mother died of complications from its birth. The beauty of that story was that Tweek was seen and filmed for Seattle TV viewers in the company of his brother and uncle, 9 and 13 years old respectively. During the filming Tweek's brother actually caught a salmon and offered it to Tweak, for all the world to see. For two days Tweak seemed to be gaining in size and strength.
The sad part of that story is that Tweak's mother died at all, and that Tweak himself is now missing and has probably died. This makes 8 orcas who have died in the past year from the community, far more than the 1 or 2 mortalities that would be expected according to normal longevity. The Southern Resident community now numbers only 83 orcas.
Toxicology results have not come in yet on L51, but evidence is abundant that the Southern Resident community of orcas - Lolita's family - has accumulated life-threatening proportions of PCB's, among other pollutants. KING-5 news in Seattle aired a special report on the problem Thursday night. PCB's tend to lodge in fatty tissues, especially in the blubber and mother's milk. They mimic, and take the place of, essential hormones that influence reproduction and immune systems, without acting in the appropriate way to provide growth and health. Studies have shown that when quantities reach more than three parts per million (ppm) some damage can occur in mammals. Humans now carry an average of about one ppm of PCB contamination. Recent studies conducted by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans have concluded that Southern community orcas have accumulated an average of about 140 ppm. Tweek's mother, L51, may have succumbed to the toxic load she was carrying, and Tweek appeared to have been born prematurely and may not have had a chance from the start.
For these reasons the Tokitae Foundation board has decided it is vitally important to provide public education about pollutants in the marine ecosystem, and how to clean them up. Habitat protection and restoration have been fundamental to the mission of the Foundation since it's inception in 1996, together with the Lolita campaign and fostering general orca awareness and education. We are now launching the Orcas in Our Midst Educational Outreach Program, consisting of republishing the 1996 middle-school booklet Orcas in Our Midst, plus a new edition of the award-winning film documentary Orcas in the Balance, first produced in 1998 by Outpost Productions and People for Puget Sound, a poster display for classrooms, and a teachers' activity guide. These materials will accompany speaking engagements to take place in schools and community meetings, as well as business and government entities throughout western Washington. On Friday night Tokitae board member Kelley Balcomb-Bartok gave an almost lyrical talk and slide presentation about the orcas' need for a healthy habitat, to citizen representatives from the fledgling Marine Resource Commissions of seven Washington counties.
That's the long way of explaining that the Tokitae Foundation has new email and street addresses. We are now at 2403 So. Northbluff Rd., Greenbank, WA 98253, and the email address is email@example.com. The phone number is (360) 678-3451. All former addresses of both types are no longer operational.
The campaign for Lolita goes on, of course. We are examining legal avenues to bring her long captivity to an end. Supporters in Miami will continue to stage demonstrations in front of the Seaquarium, and we'll be letting you know when those occur. In mid-May of this year, Arthur Hertz, owner of the Seaquarium, appeared on Miami television to proclaim that the Seaquarium would begin construction of Lolita's new tank "in six months." That time has nearly gone by, and there is no sign of any new tank, which would not solve Lolita's problem anyway. We will point out to the media that this promise was just another false claim to dampen the ever-rising sentiment that Lolita must be allowed to return to her home waters.
It is not known if Lolita carries a toxic load similar to what is found in her family. If not, the prospect is that she would live a long healthy life back in her native habitat, and could even bring a precious new baby orca or two into the community. In any case, she deserves to live among her family, in the waters where she was born, and she is fully capable of doing so.
We are interested in hearing from you at any time. This is a time of new beginnings in many ways, and as we join forces with environmental advocates in the Pacific Northwest and around the globe it is important to remember that everyone can play a meaningful role.