A Billionaire Wants to Use a Cargo Plane to Fly an Orca to Freedom After 53 Years in Captivity. Here’s How It Could Work.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
A billionaire philanthropist is backing a $20 million plan to release Tokitae the orca from her small enclosure in the Miami Seaquarium.
The plan would involve loading the 8,000-pound killer whale on a plane, flying her across the US, and releasing her in a bay near Seattle.
“She’s healthy, I’ve got the money, let’s move her,” Indianapolis Colts CEO Jim Irsay told “The Pat McAfee Show” last month.
Friends of Toki, the activist group leading the move with financial backing from Irsay, told Euronews that the animal could be moved within 18 to 24 months.
Killer whale on a plane
The plan, which is in collaboration with the owner of the Miami Seaquarium, The Dolphin Company, would see the 21-foot-long killer whale loaded onto a harness and enclosed in a glass tank at the Miami Seaquarium, according to The Times of London.
That tank would be loaded onto a truck to the Miami airport, where it would be transferred onto a large cargo plane such as a C-130 Hercules, the newspaper said.
The orca would then be flown with her carers across the US on a 2,700-mile journey to the Seattle Airport, where Tokitae would be taken by truck to the Salish Sea, per the Times.
The report said that more than $500,000 had already been spent on Tokitae’s “life support systems” for the trip, including filters for her pool water.
Tokitae, who is not strong enough to swim long distances or hunt on her own, would be transferred to a 15-acre netted area near the San Juan islands.
Tokitae has been living in the world’s smallest orca enclosure. File photo/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images via BI
Tokitae has been living in the world’s smallest orca enclosure
Tokitae, also known as Lolita, has been performing for 53 years. She was captured from Penn Cove, Washington, when she was four.
The killer whale has been living in the world’s smallest orca tank, which measures 80 feet by 35 feet. She’s the second oldest orca living in captivity.
According to a 2022 report, Tokitae’s health was rapidly declining. Her health has since improved, thanks in part to efforts to updates to her living conditions. In the midst of activist pressure, notably from the Lummi Nation, an indigenous group that considers her a family member and calls her Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, the Miami Seaquarium agreed to stop the orca’s live shows last year.
Orcas are intensely social animals that form strong bonds with their mothers. The hope is that Tokitae could be reunited with her mother, who is thought to be alive and swimming near where the netted enclosure would be.
Lii, a Pacific white-sided dolphin who has been sharing Tokitae’s enclosure in the Miami Seaquarium, might be relocated with Tokitae to keep her company.