When Toki, also known as Tokitae or Lolita, died Friday, August 18, the Miami Seaquarium announced the news on Instagram. The post read:
“Over the last two days, Toki started exhibiting serious signs of discomfort, which her full Miami Seaquarium and Friends of Toki medical team began treating immediately and aggressively. Despite receiving the best possible medical care, she passed away Friday afternoon from what is believed to be a renal condition. Toki was an inspiration to all who had the fortune to hear her story and especially to the Lummi nation that considered her family. Those of us who have had the honor and privilege to spend time with her will forever remember her beautiful spirit.”
Miami Seaquarium mentions nothing about the exceptionally cruel treatment Toki endured at the hands of humans after she was captured in Puget Sound, Washington, USA, on August 8, 1970, at the age of four. Since 2022, Miami Seaquarium has been run by a Mexican business enterprise called the Dolphin Company. It operates theme parks in several countries and uses dolphins in theatrical shows and captive dolphin interaction programs. On its website, the Dolphin Company describes itself as “the largest park operator in Latin America and the #1 dolphin company in the world.” Referring to captive dolphins as “ambassadors,” it promotes a total of 23 captive dolphin facilities in eight different countries and lures in paying customers by promising them “the experience of a lifetime.”
Toki spent 53 years in the world’s smallest orca tank where she could never dive or swim normally. For most of those years, she lived without the company of her own kind, which is torturous for such a social and highly complex being. Even though Miami Seaquarium’s current owner did not capture Toki or put her in that dreadful tank, I wish they would have fully acknowledged her agonizing and lonely existence. I also think they should have addressed their statement directly to her instead of to the public.
Imagine if Miami Seaquarium had said something like this: “Dear Toki, we are sorry for what humans did to you. We feel enormous guilt that humans stole your entire life from you, and we fully realize the trauma and the irrevocable losses you have suffered since the capture team netted you and dragged you away from your mother, your pod, and your vast ocean world. We are truly sorry.
“We are sorry you never got a chance to become a mother yourself. With the beautiful spirit you possess, you no doubt would have been an amazing mother to a daughter or a son. Or perhaps life would have given you one of each? Who knows what life had in store for you before humans chased you down and destroyed everything. There is no doubt in our minds that you could have had an incredibly adventurous and purposeful life if humans had not crossed your path that fateful day. Your mother and other pod members would have taught you how to use your strength, intelligence, and tremendous power to hunt live prey. You would have lived your life as the ocean’s top predator, just as nature intended.
“That brings us to something else: We are sorry that trainers made you perform all those silly tricks for food rewards of dead fish. Controlling dolphins by taking advantage of their hunger is wrong on so many levels, and we understand that now. Sadly, help arrived too late for you, and you never made it out alive. Those of us who were in control of your life did not act in time, and there is nothing we can do to change that now. But please know that we are going to honor your memory by addressing all the wrongs that we ourselves have committed against dolphins over the years. Dolphins were not created by nature to provide superficial entertainment for humans. We have no right to take ownership over your lives and reduce you to begging performers. All of that needs to stop, once and for all. We will do the right thing, Toki. We promise you.”
They are not going to publish anything like that, of course. It’s just a dream in my head. Toki died far away from home, and she died alone. Humans were not her real family, and the last thing she saw before leaving her body was those ugly barren walls that humans had confined her in for more than five decades.
Immediately after her death, Miami Seaquarium got a crane to hoist her out of the stadium. Why couldn’t they have done that while she was still alive? How much longer was she supposed to wait? A haunting image taken by Claire Beatrix Paris, who is a member of the “Until Lolita is Home” movement, shows her lifeless and used body in a sling that had been lifted into the air. Someone had covered her with a large piece of white cloth. That must be one of the few times, perhaps even the only time, since she was incarcerated at the Miami Seaquarium 53 years ago that her body was completely shielded from Florida’s burning sun.
Miami Seaquarium gave Toki some shade after she was dead. I find that painfully ironic.
Featured image: Toki is lifted out of her concrete show stadium after her death on Friday, August 18th. Kidnapped from her pod in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island on August 8th, 1970, she spent 53 years performing for tourists at the Miami Seaquarium. The image was captured by Claire Beatrix Paris, who is a friend and colleague of the “Until Lolita is Home” movement.