Sunday events at Penn Cove, Lime Kiln commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Penn Cove orca captures

Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of the capture of local killer whale Lolita – also known as Tokitae -- at Penn Cove on Whidbey Island.

Events commemorating the capture are scheduled at Penn Cove beginning at 3 p.m.; and at Lime Kiln State Park from 6-9 p.m. The Lime Kiln event includes a candlelight ceremony at dusk.

Orca Network reports:

Seven Southern Resident orcas, including Lolita, or Tokitae, were removed and delivered to marine parks around the world. Four or five orcas were killed during this capture, and though attempts were made to hide these deaths, the bodies washed ashore in the months following the capture, causing a huge public outcry. However, the capture team returned in August 1971, to again corral the Southern Resident orcas and remove another three orcas.

From 1965 to 1976, 12 captures took place in Puget Sound waters, and additional captures likely involving Southern Resident orcas took place on the Washington Coast and in B.C. waters. Captures occurring in Washington waters include captures from Carr Inlet, Yukon Harbor, Vaughn Bay, Port Madison, Ocean City, and Budd Inlet. During this time, approximately 58 Southern Resident orcas were removed from the population (45 delivered to marine parks and approximately 13 killed during the captures), leaving only 71 Southern Residents when the captures ended in 1976.

The population recovered somewhat by the mid-1990s, but then a 20 percent drop in the population alarmed researchers and agencies, and spurred the listing of the population under the Endangered Species Act. Though the Southern Resident orcas are now the focus of federal and state recovery efforts, the center of a multi-million dollar whale watch/tourism industry, and the state marine mammal, their survival continues to hang in the balance, and their population today only numbers about 86.

Of all the Southern Resident orcas delivered to marine parks, all had died by 1987 except for Lolita, or Tokitae, who remains in a small tank at the Miami Seaquarium, performing for the last 40 years.

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To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Lolita's capture from Penn Cove, Orca Network is holding several events throughout the day and evening on the waters and shore of Penn Cove to remember all the orcas who died during the captures or in captivity, and to honor Lolita. Events to bring awareness to Lolita's long life in a small tank are also being held in Miami, Fla., Seattle, Vallejo, Calif., Victoria, B.C., Friday Harbor, and Memphis, Tenn.

Ric O'Barry, marine mammal specialist for Earth Island Institute and the main character in the Academy Award-winning documentary "The Cove," will participate in the commemoration. O'Barry was a former dolphin trainer for the "Flipper" show at the Miami Seaquarium, but when a dolphin died in his arms he was transformed into a full-time activist who has fought against dolphin captivity for decades, and in the revealing exposé "The Cove" which brought awareness of captivity issues to a whole new level.

Sunday at 3 p.m., participates will arrive in kayaks, row boats, and other vessels for a ceremonial paddle/sail/motor around the perimeter of the capture site on Penn Cove, along with Capt. John Stone on the Cutty Sark and the SEA Program's vessel the Indigo (limited tickets are available).

Following the on-the-water events, from 5–6:30 p.m., there will be a no-host reception with O’Barry and other guest speakers on the Coupeville Wharf. Participants can view historic displays of the Penn Cove captures.

Concluding the event will be an evening of presentations at the Coupeville Middle School Performing Arts Center, 501 S. Main St., beginning at 6:30 p.m. with a silent auction, coffee and desserts, followed by guest speakers including O’Barry, Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research (invited), Howard Garrett of Orca Network, and other special guests. Historic photographs of the captures will be on display, and a clip of historic film and commentary from the 1971 Penn Cove Orca Capture by the late Don McGaffin of KING 5 TV will be shown.

Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro said of the film, "The film that Don took at that time has long been missing from any public viewing. It is stunning photography of what life was like for Puget Sound orcas being hunted and captured in the 1970's. You will not believe your eyes ..."

Ralph and Karen Munro, Dr. Terry Newby, and others will be on hand to share their personal experiences and perspectives of the captures.

All events except the Cutty Sark and Indigo cruises are free and open to the public, though donations are welcome.

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