SEATTLE - An animal activist is facing a lawsuit after drone videos were posted along with descriptions of concerns about the condition of Tokitae, an orca originally captured in the Pacific Northwest before living more than 50 years in captivity.
"They don’t like me," said Phil Demers, noting that he has been part of protests for roughly a year.
"The real crime isn’t that people are publishing videos of Lolita," he said. "The crime is the conditions she’s living in. Don’t trust that they’ll do their best as they’ve been saying and being celebrated for the past year. Take a good hard look at reality, and let your eyes and ears do your thinking for you."
Demers has become synonymous with orca activism after becoming a whistleblower at MarineLand in Canada.
Kiska, an orca that was once dubbed the loneliest orca in captivity, died in MarineLand in March this year after outliving her babies. Demers had become involved in what he called "wrongdoing" years before Kiska died.
Tokitae has similarly lived in captivity for decades. Her enclosure at the Miami Seaquarium has undergone renovations in the past year, but the tank sits inside a stadium that is under a repair or demolish order from Miami-Dade County.
Demers has posted a number of videos, and calls to action, across Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.
According to a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County, the Miami Seaquarium alleges that Demers has used misinformation and intimidation tactics to interfere with zoos in an attempt to rescue animals from unsafe conditions. The lawsuit claims that Demers has used drones to record unauthorized images, and that he’s knowingly published false information.
The public spat has played out online, as well. The Dolphin Company CEO Eduardo Albor and Demer arguing over Tokitae’s health on social media:
Albor, and The Dolphin Company, announced that the company was taking ownership of the Miami Seaquarium in August 2021.
Since then, the company has engaged with nonprofits that hope to one day move Tokitae to an open pen sea sanctuary in her native waters near Puget Sound.
Earlier this year, many celebrated the unveiling of a plan to move Tokitae – though, plans to move her aren’t finalized.
During the announcement of future plans for Tokitae, Albor stated: "Finding a better future for Lolita is one of the reasons that motivated us to acquire the Miami Seaquarium."
Talk of a future sanctuary has done little to stem animal activists who are concerned about current conditions.
In recent years Lolita has fallen ill at various points. PETA sounded the alarm in 2022 saying that she could "die any day." That report began an increasing amount of attention on conditions inside the Miami Seaquarium.
In the latest health update from "Friends of Tokitae," it was noted that the whale's condition was "relatively stable," with notes of abdominal discomfort that may be linked to constipation and colitis.
"After symptomatic treatment she improved within several days," the health and welfare report reads. "After this period, her energy, appetite, and engagement in daily activities have been steady."
In late June, a group of Congressional delegates wrote a letter questioning if more could be done in the short-term, or long-term, given the real threat of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and her colleagues were particularly concerned given damage that was seen following Hurricane Irma during the 2017 season, writing: "Not only did the storm appear to turn the tank water murky, upon their return to the park, her caretakers found Tokitae’s tank to be full of debris. While she endured then, she may not be so lucky next time."
FOX 13 has reached out to both The Dolphin Company, and the lawyer that filed the lawsuit against Demers, at the time of this article posting. We have not heard back from either.
We will update this story, and a response from The Dolphin Company, as it becomes available.