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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Anacortes, Washington, USA

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Anacortes, Washington, USA
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Registered: December 2020
City/Town/Province: Gaithersburg
Posts: 1
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I was born with High Functioning Autism disorder. My brain processes language more slowly than others and sometimes people have difficulty understanding my words. I am grateful to have artistic talents and an abundance of creativity, curiosity, and imagination, and I use these skills to speak out for animals and the natural world that need protection. I often best express my ideas in drawings, but also through creative writing and poetry, as a way to inspire others. With the support of my teachers and therapists over the years, I have gained confidence to use my abilities, voice, and own special way of thinking to reach for my dreams to help the world.

Last summer, I had the great opportunity to participate in a four-day learning adventure on a research boat with The Salish Sea School, a nonprofit organization in the Pacific Northwest that educates and empowers youth leaders in marine conservation. The program was a wonderful way to learn about marine plants and animals and ways to protect the oceans. I participated in a seabird survey, a forage fish survey, and other research. I dissected a salmon and learned how important salmon are to the survival of the Southern Resident orcas. I started to take action by writing letters asking the Pacific Fisheries Council to consider the needs of the Southern Resident orcas when setting annual salmon allotments to help starving and endangered orcas.

As a change leader in marine ecology and marine animal conservation, I continue to participate in citizen science research through bird surveys; coastal beach cleanups; and eco-friendly living. I am so inspired by my “Guardian of the Sea” honor from the Salish Sea School, that I started to create artwork and poetry about marine life, which the executive director has been sharing to encourage people to respect ocean life around our planet.

For my Apprentice Ecologist Initiative™ leadership project, I choose to raise awareness about the endangered Southern Resident orcas and to advocate for the return of Tokitae (TOE-Key-Tie) a Southern Resident orca calf who was brutally taken from her family and Salish Sea home 50 years ago by exploitive humans. I have been raising awareness through my artwork and writing letters to governmental authorities and others advocating for the return of Tokitae. My drawings and poems are a call of freedom and love.

For those who don’t know Tokitae’s story, she was born in the Salish Sea and swam in the loving and protective care of her mother and family pod for the first six years of her life. She is a member of L pod, one of the three separate Southern Resident (salmon eating) orca groups. The Southern Resident orcas are endangered, with the total population now just 74 members, including Tokitae. They are endangered due to lack of food (salmon) and noise and chemical pollution.

August 8, 1970 was a sorrowful, fearful, and tragic day for Tokitae. Imagine nets, speed boats, explosives, and humans terrorizing into a cove. Four calves and one adult orca drowned in the nets. Their bellies were slit and filled with rocks and weighted objects causing them to sink in order to hide them from the public and avoid an outcry. (Their orca bodies were accidentally found a few months later by a fishing trawler which ended up playing a major role in a court decision six years later, in 1976, that banned the capture of orcas in Washington State.) Seven young orcas, including six-year-old Tokitae, were captured and sold to marine parks. Tokiate was shipped 3,400 miles away from her home and has been held captive ever since in a tiny pool at Miami Seaquarium in Florida. Tokitae is the last survivor of the 45 Southern Resident orcas who have been captured between 1965 and 1973 for display in marine parks.

“Tokitae” is her Coastal Salish tribal name. “Lolita” is her stage (slave) name. I use the word “slave” because Tokitae She has been forced to perform for food and entertain nearly every day, twice a day, for 50 years. The tank at the Miami Seaquarium is 80 feet across and 20 feet deep. Tokitae is 22 feet long. She can only dive a few feet deep and can never swim away from the hot Florida sun, (wild orcas can swim over 100 miles a day and dive hundreds of feet deep).

Today, many people support the conservation of the Salish Sea ecosystem, the Southern Resident orcas, and Tokitae's reunion back home with her pod. I am grateful for this generation of compassionate supporters and activists. This year, people throughout the world came together online to honor Tokitae through words, songs, prayer, film, and ceremony and call for her return home. I am using my voice to create awareness and advocate against this great injustice.

The Lummi Nation has committed to bringing her home to her native waters in the Salish Sea, and hopefully reuniting her with her original pod, where her mother still swims, now as matriarch of all the Southern Resident pods. There is a very comprehensive retirement plan for Tokitae. This includes a sea pen in a protected waterway in the Salish Sea, near Orcas Island, that is right next to a salmon hatchery. This sanctuary is ready to host Tokitae for as long as she needs to be rehabilitated or to simply live out her final years in retirement. There are also in-depth plans written for her safe transportation and rehabilitation in the wild.

I have written to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Purdue, who has the power and responsibility to require that The Animal & Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) enforce the Animal Welfare Act on behalf of “Lolita.” I told him that, “it is not right for a beautiful living creature to be taken from her home and family and put in a small cage for 50 years where she can barely live.” The miserable response I received back from the USDA was heart breaking: they reasoned that because Lolita is the oldest living orca in captivity, this is proof she is being adequately cared for. I continue to write to the Miami Seaquarium, Palace Entertainment, which operates it, and its owner Parques Reunidos.

I created a 18" x 24" colored-pencil drawing of my vision of Tokitae reunited in her home with her family pod. My artwork is called “Tokitae’s Reunion,” and shows Tokitae breaching in the afternoon with Mount Baker, Washington in the background and her family swimming nearby. There is a tear of joy and relief in her eye. There is also a stylized, Native American-inspired orca symbol at the upper left — a symbol of family, longevity, harmony, community and protection. The orca is said to protect those who travel away from home, and to lead them back when the time comes. This is my fervent wish for Tokitae.

The Salish Sea School has included my voice and my artwork advocating for Tokitae’s return:
Date: December 29, 2020 Views: 4864 File size: 19.3kb, 257.8kb : 859 x 845
Hours Volunteered: 50
Volunteers: 4
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 17 to 72
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