This is the second captive orca to die in captivity in the US this year, as we lost Kiska at Marineland Ontario/Niagara Falls in March.
She was so close to being back in the ocean, where she belonged. Scientists even believe her mother is still living in the Pacific Northwest and that they could’ve possibly been reunited someday.
Tokitae, formerly known as Lolita, lived in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium for more than 50 years. The marine amusement park recently signed an agreement to release her back to the Pacific Northwest, and you can read the updates here. This effort took many years and involved scientists, marine biologists, activists, documentarians, writers, etc. The owner of the Indianapolis Colts offered to pay for her transport from Miami to the west coast. The Lummi Nation was going to monitor and care for Tokitae in her new home. The wheels were set in motion and the plans were established.
But it was too late, the Miami Seaquarium should’ve let her go years ago.
I cried pretty hard when I saw the press release from the Whale Sanctuary Project. I really believed Tokitae was going home.
The Friends of Toki and the Whale Sanctuary Project were the two organizations actively working to get her back to the ocean. But there were other individuals and organizations that helped raise awareness and money for over a decade. Thank you to everyone who ever advocated for Tokitae, whether you wrote about her, filmed her, protested for her release, raised money, or raised awareness about her. So many of us loved her and cared about her. She will always be in our hearts.
I cried when I saw the announcement from The Whale Sanctuary Project. Though I never met this orca, she was in my heart. I had hoped that she’d be one of the first orcas to be relocated to the sanctuary.
“The news is devastating to all of us who have been working toward the time when she could be retired to sanctuary.” -Lori Marino, President of The Whale Sanctuary Project1
Kiska’s Sad Life
MarineLand Canada announced that Kiska, the loneliest orca, died of a bacterial infection on March 9, 2023. She had been there since 1979, captured as a calf near Iceland (along with Keiko, the star of Free Willy) and taken from her family. She suffered the loss of all 5 of her own babies under MarineLand’s care. “One of them didn’t even survive long enough to be named. Orcas feel deep, complex emotions, and the bond between mother and child is so profound that it is hard to imagine the grief and trauma that Kiska would have suffered in each of her bereavements.”2
Worse, Kiska had been living alone in her small tank since 2011. Read this article about her life.
The video below shows how lonely, bored, and unstimulated she was in 2021.
UPDATE: We have more heartbreaking video of Kiska, MarineLand’s last surviving orca floating listlessly at the surface of her concrete pool. She has lived in complete isolation since 2011. Witnesses say she often calls out for other orcas. #FreeKiskapic.twitter.com/TWyw9x781B
The marine amusement park has been under investigation for animal cruelty for several years. Animal Justice, an animal advocacy and legal group in Canada, worked to help Kiska by filing legal complaints on her behalf, including when “disturbing videos were shared showing the orca floating listlessly and slamming her body against the side of her tank.”3
Animal Justice says they are devastated by her death. They are calling for renewed interest in charges against MarineLand “over the cruel and illegal living conditions that the facility forced Kiska to endure. Orcas are incredibly social animals, but Kiska had no one by her side since 2011, and suffered from agonizing loneliness as well as a lack of space and mental stimulation in her small barren tank. Under federal and provincial laws, it’s illegal to cause animals suffering and distress, which includes psychological distress stemming from boredom and isolation.”4
We Must Learn and Take Action
We have to keep trying, keep learning, and keep calling for action. We’ve made progress, but we have a long way to go.
Kiska was the last orca living in captivity in Canada since the 2019 passing of Bill S-203. This law made it illegal to breed or import marine mammals into captivity. However, the whales and dolphins currently in captivity at Marineland were exempted from these laws. “Her death marks the end of legal orca captivity in the country.”5
“No other orcas [in Canada] will endure the heartbreaking suffering she faced.” -Camille Labchuk, Animal Justice6
Animal Justice plans to continue investigating MarineLand Canada and urges support for other projects. “It is heartbreaking to know that Kiska will never get to experience freedom, but we hope this tragedy spurs support for the Whale Sanctuary Project, and that other whales at MarineLand will be able to live out of the rest of their lives in a safe environment with hundreds of times more space than the tiny tanks they currently endure.”7
The Whale Sanctuary Project agrees. “The loss of Kiska will only intensify the urgency of our team to help Marineland relocate the approximately 34 belugas and five dolphins who remain there.”8 They ended their statement with this:
“Meanwhile, we can only ask that Marineland be fully transparent about the circumstances surrounding Kiska’s passing. But in the end, we know that no words can explain away a lifetime of pain and misery as experienced by a deeply intelligent, social, family-centered being who had the terrible misfortune to become known as the loneliest whale in the world.”9
Don’t give up. We can save the others.
Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe.
All photos in this article were taken by me. All Rights Reserved.
This year, we visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I’d only ever been there once, in 2003, just before Hurricane Isabel altered parts of the barrier islands. We enjoyed the landscapes, the nature reserves, the wildlife, the quaint towns, and of course, the beaches.
The Outer Banks are a string of barrier islands that span and protect nearly the entire coast of North Carolina. As an Outer Banks Guide explained, “They are made entirely of sand, without the keel of rock that anchors most islands firmly to the earth. It is a fascinatingly evanescent phenomenon in geological terms, a landform so transient that changes are visible from year to year.”1 Though there is a lot of development, there are vast natural areas, preserves, dunes, and beaches. We saw inspiring sun rises on the ocean side and gorgeous sunsets on the sound side.
There were more birds and crabs than I can list, as well as deer and other animals. Pelicans seemed to enjoy showing off their graceful glide just inches above the sea. Sandpipers and terns poked into the sand seeking food. A few times, I sat really still on the beach when there weren’t a lot of people around, and I became surrounded by ghost crabs! The Outer Banks have laws and protected areas for wildlife throughout the islands. They restricted humans from some places to protect bird nests:
Do Not Enter signs from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service on the Outer Banks, NC.
We even saw sea turtle tracks!
But sadly, we also found a dead sea turtle. We visited an area called Oregon Inlet and had a picnic snack on the beach. Then we walked along the beach and picked up trash.
In the distance, I could see something big with orange stripes and wasn’t sure what it was until we got right up to it. Once I realized that it was a deceased sea turtle, I cried. I don’t know what caused its death, but I was sorry that it had lost its life. When I went to report the turtle, I discovered that spray paint markings like these indicate that this turtle had already been reported. Scientists document the animal’s species, sex, and age, and also extract genetic material to study and to better understand those species.
The National Park Service has many sites in the Outer Banks, including several lighthouses and the Wright Brothers National Memorial, and they had one on Ocracoke Island that offered sea turtle education. My son learned a lot from the rangers and their exhibit.
As usual for my family, we picked up litter and beachcombed. Following are three of the piles we accumulated, containing a range of items – bottles of sunscreen, pieces of toys, Styrofoam/polystyrene, pieces of nylon rope, fireworks debris, food wrappers, plastic bags and film, and many, many small pieces of plastic. I uploaded images of each individual item into the Litterati app.
As you can see, we found quite a variety of items, some recognizable and some not! Some of these items likely washed up on the beach from other places or fell off of boats, but others were obviously left behind. It’s so important to remember to leave the beach cleaner than you found it! Plastic pollution exponentially increases annually and is harming everything in the food chain, including humans.
Below are a few of my favorite finds – a broken green-haired plastic mermaid, a fishermen’s glove, and two missile-shaped diving weights that we ended up using and keeping!
I also found these goggles, which at first I thought someone had dropped. But upon closer examination, I noticed that these had been in the ocean long enough to grow barnacles:
Located in Nags Head, NC, and used for sightseeing and fishing, this pier is unique. It was originally built in 1939 by the Jennette family, hence the name. The North Carolina Aquarium Society bought it in 2003 with the intention of building an educational outpost for the Aquarium, but Hurricane Isabel severely damaged the pier later that same year. The Aquarium rebuilt the 1000-foot-long, concrete pier with educational panels throughout and it reopened in 2011.2 It is LEED certified and has 3 wind turbines:
They had exhibit panels on birds and marine mammals and shorebirds, such as this one:
They had others on many topics, including surfing, ocean processes, fishing, and trash. In fact, they had sponsored recycling stations for items like cigarette butts and fishing line:
The Pier House features a small, free series of North Carolina Aquariums interactive exhibits. I highly recommend visiting this pier if you’re ever on the Outer Banks!
Other Cool Finds
Outer Banks Brewing Station
We ate at this brewery and restaurant, which was once featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. While we went to several good restaurants, I’m featuring this one because it uses wind energy! It was the first wind-powered brewery in the United States, and the first business to produce wind power on the Outer Banks. They use 100% of the turbine’s energy to supplement their electricity. Over the course of its operating life (at least 30 years), this 10 kW Bergey GridTek system will offset approximately 1.2 tons of air pollutants and 250 tons of greenhouse gases.3 Oh, and we enjoyed the food and brew!
The Surfin’ Spoon
This frozen yogurt shop in Nags Head was my son’s absolute favorite, and they also offered dairy-free ice cream treats that were delicious! This shop, owned by a former professional surfer, collects and donates money to Surfers for Autism, a non-profit that provides free surf sessions to children and adults with autism and other related developmental delays and disabilities.4
Almost everywhere on the Outer Banks is super dog friendly! I found this pleasantly surprising and hope to bring our dog there someday.
Overall, A Lovely Place to Travel
We saved up for this trip and felt privileged to be able to travel the Outer Banks, taking in many sights from Corolla all the way down to Emerald Isle, North Carolina. We saw several lighthouses, National Park Service sites, and other places that I didn’t have time to mention above. I highly recommend the Outer Banks for its beauty, dedication to conservation, and relaxed atmosphere. Thanks for reading, please share and subscribe!
Happy World Sea Turtle Day! Though these beautiful and important creatures deserve everyone’s attention year-round, I like to honor this day, June 16th, to acknowledge and bring awareness to their plight.
I found this video about sea turtles from the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Kentucky, which my family just visited this past April (2022):
The aquarium had a really great display with a cross-section of how a sea turtle nest looks under the sand:
It is extremely important to protect these nests since hatchlings have a very low chance of survival to adulthood. Here’s a TED-Ed video explaining the struggles hatchlings face:
You can also adopt a sea turtle nest! There are many organizations at every level – global down to local communities – that take donations to protect a nest and educate their communities. I adopt one annually on Hilton Head Island through the Coastal Discovery Museum since that area is special to my family. There seems to be a program near most coastal communities in the United States, so just pick one!
Thank you for reading and supporting sea turtles, please share and subscribe! I’ll close with a video I took of a sea turtle swimming in the Newport Aquarium’s Coral Reef exhibit:
Video, “All About Sea Turtles,” World Wildlife Fund Wild Classroom, April 13, 2021.
Article, “How To Help Save Sea Turtles,” seeturtleweek.com.
Film, Protecting leatherback turtles – Blue Planet II: Episode 7 Preview, BBC One, December 8, 2017.