Lolita aka Toki during a performance celebrating her 40th anniversary at Seaquarium in Miami
Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Orca Toki is about to be released after more than 50 years in captivity.
The Seaquarium in Miami has stopped showing the second oldest killer whale in captivity.
Activists are working to ensure that the animal can spend its final years in peace - and possibly with its family.
Toki, who was called "Lolita" at the beginning of her captivity, was separated from her mother and her seven siblings when she was four years old.
Toki had to deliver shows for almost five decades – in the smallest orca tank in North America.
At 24 meters long and 10 meters wide, it is only four times the size of the animal itself.
The five young orcas that were caught with her have now died - most of them within the first year.
Family still swims in the Salish Sea
Toki's health has continued to deteriorate over the years.
Still, experts have described the whale as being in "remarkably good shape."
For example, Toki survived her companion Hugo.
He died of a brain aneurysm in 1980 after repeatedly hitting his head against the pelvic wall.
"She's a miracle every day," Howard Garrett, a whale researcher and Orca Network activist who has campaigned for Toki's release since 1995, told The Guardian.
It is against all odds that Toki is still alive.
"I think it's her sanity that keeps her in good physical shape."
Activists are fighting to have the whale returned to the Pacific to spend its final days and possibly be reunited with its family.
Toki's mother, believed to be in her 90s, is still swimming in the waters of the Salish Sea.
The chances of a release are not bad: in 2021 the Seaquarium changed hands.
The new owner was open to releasing Toki.
However, reintegration into nature would also entail risks.
Because of the long imprisonment, it is not clear, among other things, whether Toki could feed himself.
That's why she could also be released in a 40-hectare area in Nova Scotia run by the Whale Sanctuary Project.
Experts also fear that the infections Toki contracted in captivity could be spread to other killer whales.
The question of whether the trip could be too much for her due to her age also cannot be answered conclusively.
And there are concerns about the stress that a new, wild environment places on an older whale.
What speaks for the attempt: Toki still seems to remember her former life with her family.
In 1996, a researcher recorded Toki's family greeting each other in the San Juan Islands, and reporters played the recording for her at the Miami Seaquarium.
She seemed to recognize the shouts.
Although it is not clear if she is still able to communicate with her family.