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'Things are looking really good' for captured orca's return to Salish Sea

caption: Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium orca show, 2006. She is also known by the name Tokitae.
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Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium orca show, 2006. She is also known by the name Tokitae.

The lead veterinarian overseeing the orca known as Tokitae said she's in good clinical condition for her pending relocation from Miami to her native Washington waters.

The move could happen by the end of the year if she remains healthy and all permits are approved.

RELATED: Make that TWO orca calves spotted in Salish Sea

“All of her parameters are near normal,” Dr. Tom Reidarson said in an update on the Friends of Toki website. “Things are looking really good. Her blood work continues to be stable and look nice. And she is in as good of a clinical condition as I’ve ever seen her.”

Reidarson notes that there have been some “ups and downs” with the 57-year-old orca. Tokitae was sick in 2022, and also a month ago, but recovered well both times. She is receiving daily antibiotics for a chronic pulmonary infection.

The nonprofit Friends of Toki also said the killer whale is slowly being introduced to a sling that will be used to load her onto a cargo plane. That plane will transport her from the Miami Seaquarium to a protected sea pen in the Salish Sea.

RELATED: Orca taken in the 1970s to be released from captivity, returned to PNW

“I believe once she's conditioned by the great work that’s being done by the trainers, she'll be ready,” Dr. Reidarson said.

She's also playing with new enrichment “toys,” like artificial kelp, to help her get familiar with the waters she will eventually call home, again.

Tokitae’s current handlers in Miami are worried she might not survive the 3,000-mile move. Nonetheless, the federal regulatory and state permitting processes are underway to return Tokitae to the Northwest.

Tokitae is the second-oldest orca in captivity. She was taken from Puget Sound’s L Pod in 1970 and has lived at the Miami Seaquarium ever since, under the stage name “Lolita.” There has been a long effort to get the orca back to Puget Sound. The Seaquarium announced its decision to end shows with the orca in 2022.

It's not clear if she will ever be able to reconnect with her extended L Pod family, including an approximately 90-year-old orca that is believed to be her mother.

RELATED: Older orcas living in captivity could find sanctuary on San Juan Islands

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