Last Baby Orca Born At SeaWorld, Captive Breeding Of Killer Whales Comes To An End

The last baby orca bred and born in captivity at SeaWorld made its first appearance at the San Antonio theme park yesterday. Protests by animal rights activists and a decline in ticket sales prompted the Florida-based company to nix its whale breeding program last year.

The baby orca has not received a name because SeaWorld veterinarians cannot yet determine if the killer whale is a male or a female. Takara, the 25-year-old orca that gave birth to the last captive-bred orca, was already pregnant when SeaWorld announced plans to end its breeding program last March. The typical gestation period for an orca whale is 18 months.

The company’s newest theme park will be built in Dubai and will not include orca whales. The last baby orca born at SeaWorld was sired by Kyuquot at the Texas theme park by natural means. There are now 23 killer whales held in captivity at the company’s various parks.

SeaWorld orca gives birth to the park’s last killer whale baby via @PEOPLEPets

SeaWorld Chief Zoological Officer, Chris Dold, deemed the birth of the last orca baby a bittersweet experience. After weeks of preparation for the birth of the orca calf, Dold indicated he and his staff celebrated the successful arrival of the massive baby killer whale.

Both Takara and her calf appear to be healthy and doing well at the San Antonio theme park, the Daily Mail reports. Dold said the veterinary team expects everything will go along smoothly with Takara and the baby whale but is not taking anything for granted.

“These are extraordinary moments. It’s a tempered celebration only because we’re focused on the health of these guys,” Dold added. “Mom generally will rest but she can’t rest too much. Mom’s not holding onto the calf, but it’s riding in her slipstream, and that’s how it gets around.”

Performances of killer whales at SeaWorld will end by 2019. Animal rights activists and the documentary about the theme park, Blackfish, generated intense controversy and sparked protests against the keeping of orcas, dolphins, and a myriad of other creatures, in captivity for entertainment purposes.

Blackfish was released four years ago and focused on one orca whale in particular, Tilikum. SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum in 2010 after the orca dragged her into the killer whale pool and caused her to drown. Spectators witnessed the entire horrific ordeal. Guests seated in the lower portion of the stadium inside the Dine with Shamu eating area had a front row view of Brancheau being killed.

Over the course of the whale’s 25 years spent at the SeaWorld Orlando theme park, Tilikum sired a grand total of 14 calves. He died earlier this year of bacterial pneumonia.

All of the remaining orca whales will remain on display and be made available for researchers for many years to come at SeaWorld’s San Antonio, San Diego, and Orlando locations. “Natural orca encounters” will soon be offered at the parks instead of the once highly popular killer whale shows. The San Diego SeaWorld plans to open an educational whale attraction in a remodeled pool this summer.

The last baby orca calf can be viewed by SeaWorld guests as park staffers share information and observations about the whale. Veterinarian teams at each theme park will use both birth control and “social management” to prevent the 23 remaining orca whales from breeding while in captivity. It has been almost four decades since the park has removed an orca from the wild. Most of the whales currently on display were born, and have lived their entire lives, in captivity at SeaWorld.

The end of the SeaWorld breeding program has at least one significant group of detractors — researchers. They are concerned the lack of new births in captivity will inhibit their ability to study the health, growth, and behavior of the massive creatures.

Researchers are currently able to study how a baby orca reacts around siblings because two of Takara’s other calves are also housed at the San Antonio theme park. One of her calves has been loaned out to a park in Spain, and another one lives at the company’s Florida theme park, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

The last baby orca born in captivity at SeaWorld will reportedly be allowed to remain with its mother.

[Featured Image by Glen gaffney/Shutterstock]