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Free Lolita Update 58

Lolita Update #58
December 9, 2002

Dear Friends of Lolita,

(Note: anti-spam programs make it impossible to send the words Fre* Lol*ta to a growing number of email addresses, so we're using the original name of the orca captured in Penn Cove in 1970 and sent to Miami for display in a marine park.)
  • 3 New Orca Calves born to Tokitae's extended family in Puget Sound
  • Keiko Update
  • Help us help the whales by supporting Orca Network (New Free Lol*ta T-shirts now ready for shipping)
Dear Friends of Tokitae,

It's been over two months since our last Free Lol*ta Update, and we're happy to share the news that the Southern Resident orca community (Tokitae's extended family) has grown by three new babies in that time. Two new L pod calves and one in K pod bring the total in the intact community up to 82 from a precarious low of 78 in 2000. That's not counting L98 (Luna), the youngster who got left behind 18 months ago in a bay in British Columbia, or Lol*ta, who was intentionally stranded in concrete in Miami over 30 years ago.

Tokitae remains a prisoner of our beliefs. Since the Lol*ta project was first proposed in August, 1994 by Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, the prospects for Tokitae to make her way back to her home waters has depended on turning the tide of disbelief that it can't be done because she wouldn't survive reintroduction. Once that tide starts to turn, once journalists, political figures, writers and columnists, scientists and teachers and just plain folks begin to appreciate that even after long term captivity an orca can safely resume a life at sea, the political and economic chips will fall into place and it will soon be done. Although the evidence is mounting almost daily that Lolita could indeed return home safely, the required turnaround in beliefs has not yet occurred across mainstream America.

There is plenty of solid evidence that Tokitae and other captive orcas are capable of rejoining their families. For instance, we know that Tokitae can still catch fish from watching two very young calves who, in completely separate incidents, found themselves alone at about the age of one year. Never before in recorded history had an orca so young been discovered totally separated from its family, much less has there been two cases hundreds of miles apart at the same time. Prior to these events any respectable marine mammalogist would have assumed that a babe so young could not possibly survive on its own because it wouldn't be able to find and catch food. And yet we had A73 (Springer) from the Northern resident community, and L98 (Luna) from the Southern resident community, quite easily catching their fill of salmon on a daily basis. This means Lol*ta was quite competent to feed herself for about five years prior to her capture, and there is no reason to think she's lost the skill.

By the way, Springer was transported 400 miles to her home waters, where she successfully rejoined her family after a year's absence, even though her mother had been dead for over a year. After four days trailing along behind her pod, Springer was adopted by a teenage female and her younger brother, also orphans.

The clincher comes from Keiko, the movie star whale who's demolishing the myth of the habituated, dependent captive orca. The startling truth has so far only been whispered. Twenty-four years after he was wrapped in a net and stolen from his home and family as a mere yearling, Keiko, contrary to torrents of disbelief that still rage on, is a free whale.

Starting in mid-July he easily swam 1,000 miles across the stormy North Atlantic to a Norwegian fjord where he found some human company. Without a doubt he ran a personal best and is now in the best shape of his life by far.

Keiko may not have found his closest family just yet. Nobody has a clue how orca family systems work in the Atlantic and Keiko may need to look around, or even ask around for a while, before he'll meet up with close kin. Keiko's legendary friendliness is surely an asset, but it's been 24 years. Also, it takes time to rejoin the clan. Orca families are built on trust, love and loyalty, and as we learned from Springer, you have to show you mean it and wait to be welcomed before you get a warm embrace. For Tokitae, her family is seen almost daily in Washington waters for most of each year. Just last week they were spotted just a few miles from the home of Orca Network on Whidbey Island.

September 1 Keiko wandered into a Norwegian harbor and found some human folks to play with. You may have heard that Keiko was begging for food. He wasn't. His veterinarian for the past six years measured his waistline and found he hadn't lost an inch. Some excited and generous Norwegians tossed him some fish and he ate them. He wasn't begging, just enjoying some company. A young girl played the theme from Free Willy to Keiko on her harmonica and he seemed to love it. He wasn't begging then either. You may also have heard that Keiko has "imprinted" on humans. Not true either. Again, he was just enjoying some company for a while, until he joins up with his wild family again.

In early November a monitoring station was set up in a more isolated bay called Taknes, where fish are abundant and wild orcas will arrive soon. His choices are now his own. He still needs to build up his strength and stamina to keep up with his unfettered cousins, and it may take a little longer to gradually rejoin his clan, but he has shown that he is competent to take care of himself in the high seas and he's free to travel the ocean all he wishes from now on. Let the shouting begin. KEIKO IS FREE!!

Keiko's freedom is the template on which to base a release plan for Tokitae, except that Tokitae would not need a tank specially built for her she could go straight to a temporary pen in a bay. Nor would she need the drawn-out, meticulous "re-training" to be a wild whale, since we now know from the solitary calves and Keiko that those skills, and her identity as a member of her family and community, are never really forgotten. She deserves a chance to rejoin her family, but even if Tokitae decides to play every day in the ocean and return every day to be fed by her human caregivers, she will be home again. But before that can happen, enough people have to believe it can be done safely to turn the tide of opinion so Tokitae can go home.

With sincere thanks and appreciation for your interest in and support of Orca Network and the Free Tokitae Project - may your holidays be filled with peace and love,

Susan Berta & Howard Garrett

Much is going on to help bring Lolita home and to inform and advocate for her and her family Please consider a tax-deductible contribution to help Orca Network continue this work by clicking HERE. Thank you!

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