SEATTLE - Over the weekend, plans to return an orca to the Pacific Northwest got a bit more confusing—with the benefactor footing the bill announcing details of a plan, while the CEO of the aquarium in charge responded online calling the statements a "misunderstanding."
Two weeks ago, an agreement was announced between the "Friends of Tokitae" and the Miami Seaquarium owner to return the long-captive Southern Resident killer whale to the Salish Sea.
Jim Irsay, the owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and the benefactor set to pay the cost of moving Tokitae, tweeted a statement saying that Tokitae would be moved to Inlet Bay Harbor along with two dolphins.
"If [Tokitae] is doing well, she will swim out into the ocean to see her 89-year-old mom and her pod," Irsay wrote, stating that she’ll initially spend time in an adjustable pen that can expand from half an acre to almost 15 acres.
Shortly after that message was sent, the CEO of The Dolphin Company wrote that no plans have been submitted to the federal government, and that they’re not considering any plans to release Tokitae into the open ocean.
Full details of the plan have not been released by the officials with the nonprofit, or the Seaquarium. However, the initial announcement indicated that Tokitae could move within the next 18 to 24 months.
Tokitae has spent 52 years in a small pool in the Miami Seaquarium. For decades people have been trying to bring her home to her ancestral waters—Lummi elders, activists and marine biologists have spent decades trying to negotiate her release.
Initial estimates indicated it could cost between $15 million and $20 million to move Tokitae. Any plan would have to be signed off on by the parties involved, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and state officials in Washington.