Orca Lolita Tokitae

It’s been a long road from captivity to freedom for this beautiful orca Lolita Tokitae Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut.

As you read in the previous newsletter, after 53 years in captivity, FINALLY her owners decided they would release her to a sea pen in the northwest so she could live out the rest of her life near her family. The owner of the Colts football team had said he would pay for it.

Sadly, that never happened.

It turns out that her health wasn’t nearly as good as the public had been led to believe. And she died on Friday, August 18th, 2023.

After so many years in captivity, having worked for her release since 1996, and again and again being told “no” by her owners, it had been almost unbelievable that suddenly that was all about to change.

Her time in the concrete prison was almost over. And then, just as suddenly and unexpectedly as the news of her upcoming release, was the news of her death.

I was basically in a state of shock the week following her death … going through the motions of living, but not feeling anything emotionally and not really being alive.

There was a three hour memorial for her on San Juan Island on Sunday, August 17th facilitated by the Lummi tribe. Their words were wise. Their passion to continue to fight for the orcas, their brethren of the sea, unwavering. It was during the ceremony that my first stage of mourning (denial) ended, and the sadness stage began. I wept years of tears.

And then, just as the Lummi elder had said, I could feel her (sense her) there in the San Juans reunited with her family. She was finally free swimming with her mom. It was so touching, I cried some more.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the decisions I’ve made, the places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had all because I heard her story all those years ago and decided to do something about it.

Her being in captivity was actually the catalyst for me to seek more freedom in my own life. I needed freedom from a job that was exceedingly stressful. I felt like I was in a straight jacket because I had to dress a certain way, say certain things (as a manager to my employees – even when I disagreed with what I was being forced to saw), show up and be places at a certain time. There was no freedom in that anywhere.

So I dumped corporate life and moved to the San Juans without a safety net. I had no idea what my life would be like, I just knew I needed to get out.

There I met so many great people like Ken Balcolm, Kelly Balcolm-Bartok, Howard (Howie) Garrett, and so many others. Becoming friends with the port commissioner at the time resulted many years later in me getting to live on his million dollar yacht in Fiji and the South Pacific. That adventure never would have happened had I not moved for Lolita/Tokitae.

And I developed an incredibly deep relationship with the orcas. Being on an island, surrounded by big trees, and the beautiful ocean, I meditated daily by the water. Somehow I developed the ability to sense when the orcas were near the island. I could be doing anything and then suddenly I’d KNOW that the orcas were near. I’d jump in my car and drive to the west side of the island, park, and scamper to the top of a favorite hill. Then, I’d begin to see them … sometimes 30 or more would swim past.

The project we were doing for her was a compilation CD with musicians all donating a song and the proceeds would go toward her release. We even had Olivia Newton John on board. But to really get the project off the ground, we decided we needed to move to Southern California to network with people in L.A. There, I met my future husband and fell in love with a particular pod of dolphins.

And, just like with the orcas, I developed the ability to feel when they were near.

It was there in Southern California that my son was conceived.

I owe her so much … a life of freedom, living by the ocean, my deep connection to the sea, the orcas, and the dolphins, a marriage, a magnificent child, and my fabulous time in Fiji and the South Pacific.

Even though I was much more free physically … without a boss, without having to show up at a certain time and dress a certain way that fit the corporate culture, I always felt there was another level of freedom possible for me. And I sort of always knew that I could never be truly free until she was.

She is now completely free … free from:

  • owners,
  • a teeny tiny concrete prison,
  • harsh sun on her skin,
  • starvation*,
  • dead (foul) fish*,
  • horrible water*,
  • vets poking and prodding her with injections and other medical interventions.

She is now free to swim with her family in this dimension or any dimension she wants to, free to communicate with all those who love her or not to … her choice.

She taught me many lessons over the years. I talk about a few of them in this article.

Something else she taught me ages ago was about releasing and getting over hatred and judgment.

People on Facebook have been really angry about her being called Lolita … since it represents her time in enslavement. I shared the following after one such comment and the person who made the comment replied back, “beautiful.” I know that Lolita/Tokitae herself was channeling the message through me. 

“When I heard her story back in 1995, her stage name was the name most called her by. It was the name I knew when I went to visit her in 1996 as I was co-founding a non-profit then to try to bring her home. The article I wrote that was picked up by newspapers and magazines across the globe referred to her as Lolita, the beautiful orca imprisoned in Seaquarium Miami.

Her story changed my life. The whale I fell in love with, feel a kinship with so deep it goes beyond family, was/is a whale named Lolita … that I later learned to call Tokitae.

To some, the name Lolita represents enslavement and injustice. To others of us, it represents pure unconditional love.

Her essence is a feeling, not a name. Her love, power, grace, patience, etc. is an energy. What name we use is of little consequence. The love we feel for her, and that she returns, is not based on a name. It’s based on a soul resonance we have for one another.

After leaving the corporate world as an engineer and manager and moving to San Juan Island to be near her family and co-found the non-profit, I was sitting meditating on the beach one day and heard “Takara.” I later (around 1998) took that as my name. For many it represents grace, strength, empowerment, freedom and a lot of other things … because those are things I teach. But Debbie or Deborah will always be part of who I am. It’s what my mother still calls me to this day. I’m sure Ocean Sun (Lolita/Tokitae’s mom) calls our beloved whale friend something else entirely.”

Bestselling author Debbie Takara Shelor signature
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Takara Shelor
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