The Washington Transportation Commission decided Tuesday to name the two new state ferries now under construction the Tokitae (Toe-key-tay) and the Samish.
The names keep the tradition of giving ferries regional tribal names. Tokitae was submitted by the Whidbey Island based nonprofit Orca Network, and Samish was submitted by the Samish Tribe.
Deb Lund, Whidbey Island author of children’s books, first suggested Orca Network submit the name Tokitae for one of the new Washington State Ferries in 2010. The name was not chosen, but was popular and ranked in the top five of all names submitted, so Orca Network again proposed the name in 2012. The name symbolizes both the cultural and natural history of Washington, and meets all of the criteria for a WSF name. In the announcement Tuesday from the State Transportation Commission, it was stated the name “Tokitae” came in as the number one choice of all the people, committees and state ferry staff surveyed. Orca Network gathered over 1,500 signatures on a petition to name the ferry Tokitae, including support from people in 44 states and 33 countries; and signatures both from those who want to see Tokitae/Lolita released from the Miami Seaquarium, and the whale trainers who know and work with her at the Miami Seaquarim.
The cultural meaning of Tokitae derives from a Coastal Salish or Chinook jargon greeting, meaning “nice day, pretty colors,” used when members of different tribes that have dwelled along the shores of the Salish Sea rivers for millennia met one another while traveling or trading. This meaning also aptly describes the experience one has while riding a Washington State ferry in the beautiful Salish Sea.
In 1970 Dr. Jesse White, a veterinarian employed by the Miami Seaquarium, came to Seattle to select a whale from among seven that had been captured off Whidbey Island in August. According to his daughter Lisa, he bonded with one young female and decided to name her Tokitae, a word he had seen in a gift shop on the Seattle waterfront.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network said, in a news release that “the name Tokitae represents and honors this orca (renamed Lolita after she arrived in Miami) and her family, the Southern Resident orcas that range throughout the Salish Sea and beyond.
Some of this extended family of about 84 orcas are seen almost every month of every year, often from the ferries that ply the waters of the Salish Sea.”
The orca captures of the 1960s and 1970s were a sad chapter in Washington’s history, Garrett said, and contributed greatly to the current endangered status of the Southern Resident orcas. Only 71 orcas remained after 45 were removed and transported to marine parks around the world, and the population has never recovered to pre-capture numbers.
Naming the ferry “Tokitae” after Tokitae/Lolita will honor her, and the 44 other orcas captured from the Southern Resident Community. She is the only survivor of all the whales captured from her extended family. All the other orcas died by 1987.
“The honor of naming the next new ferry ‘Tokitae’ is a tribute to her strength and spirit, and an inspiration to all of us to remember her and her family in the Salish sea,” Garrett said.
“Orca Network and others continue to work to bring Lolita/Tokitae back home to Washington waters and her family, but in the mean time, naming the next new ferry ‘Tokitae’ will help keep her and others lost in the captures in our thoughts,” Garrett said. “And maybe someday Tokitae the whale will have a chance to swim in the Salish Sea, alongside the ferry bearing her name.”