A billionaire philanthropist is backing a $20 million plan to release Tokitae the orca from her small enclosure in the Miami Seaquarium.
The plan includes loading the 8,000-pound killer whale on a plane and flying her across the US before releasing her in a bay near Seattle.
“She’s healthy, I’ve got the money, let’s move her,” Jim Irsay, the owner and chief executive of the Indianapolis Colts, told podcast “The Pat McAfee Show” in July.
The move, led by activist group the Friends of Toki with financial backing from Irsay, would happen within 18 to 24 months, per Euronews.
Killer whale on a plane
The plan, which is taking place in collaboration with Miami Seaquarium owner The Dolphin Company, will see the 21-foot-long killer whale loaded onto a harness and enclosed in a strong glass tank at the Miami Seaquarium, according to The Times.
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 across the US, accompanied by her carers, on a 2,700-mile journey to the Seattle airport where she will be taken by truck to the Salish Sea, per the Times.
The report claimed that more than $500,000 has already been spent on Tokitae’s “life support systems” for the trip, including filters for her pool water.
Because she is not strong enough to swim long distances or hunt on her own, Tokitae will not be released directly into the wild but will be transferred to a 15-acre netted area near the San Juan islands.
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 State, 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 is the second oldest orca living in captivity.
Recent reports suggest her health is rapidly declining. Under 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.
Lii is a Pacific White-sided Dolphin who shares Tokitae’s enclosure at the Miami Seaquarium. She may be moved with Tokitae so that she can keep company.